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Published: 2004/08/27
by Jamie Lee

Indian Summer – Carbon Leaf

Vanguard Records 70775-2

A mandolin is the sanding stone in a modern music world where electronics are becoming the instrument du jour for many up and coming bands. The instrument's tight strings and hollow body offer a tangible, warm sound that can smooth the edges of any song. But the least likely place you'd expect to find the mandolin is within the premise of a hook-heavy rock and pop band like Carbon Leaf, but it may just be the quintet's saving grace.

Indian Summer, the Richmond, Virginia.-based band’s fifth album, finds the quintet polished and primed with the help of producers David Lowery of Cracker and John Morand, who has manned the boards for Guster and Camper Van Beethoven. Beginning with the catchy "Life Less Ordinary," the band, made up of Terry Clark (guitar), Carter Gravatt (guitar, mandolin, lap steel), Jordan Medas (bass), Scott Milstead (drums), and Barry Privett (words and vocals), begins a trek through 11 radio-friendly tracks. The uneven offering’s studio sheen is more processed than provocative; however, compositions such as "Changeless" and "One Prairie Outpost," reflect the group’s softer, introspective side complimented by Gravatt’s mandolin. And out of the handful of memorable cuts on Indian Summer, "Paloma" truly exposes the potential of Carbon Leaf with its stripped down, sobering tone propelled by Medas’ bare bass workout. The track also exposes Privett’s best songwriting of the album, painting lyrical images of a lost soul that seeks to fly away from their troubles.

Carbon Leaf's musical ability and potential is clear, and there is no doubt that the band has garnered itself a reputation as a road-ready ensemble, playing over 250 dates a year. Unfortunately, the band's true prowess isn't evident on Indian Summer, and the qualities that have helped them accumulate a live following are overwhelmed by overproduction, making it a mostly forgettable affair. On the few tracks that do sparkle on this album, it is due to the inclusion of Gravatt’s mandolin work, creating a broader range of audible textures, and differentiating the band from the plethora of other voices grappling for their place on the radio airwaves.

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