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Published: 2007/05/23
by Glenn Alexander

Roses and Clover – ALO

Brushfire Records

Turbulent times don’t necessarily make for tumultuous or revolutionary music — just listen to ALO. A record like this isn’t a sign o’ the times or a call to arms; it’s an honest attempt by four guys trying to make a joyful sound, which – regardless of the times – is something people will always clamor for. Who can hate on that? Probably not many. Who will love this record, with its bubbly pop, sincere intentions, and handcrafted vibe? In the larger scheme of things, probably not too many, either. Being honest about where you’re coming from is half the battle for most musicians, and ALO have succeeded admirably on that front. They work from their strengths and know how to craft a good song better than most. Honesty in music is indeed a valuable currency, but innovation is the key that opens the big doors. Whether or not ALO can be called original is up for debate, but if you ask me, this record – while being a classy, focused, and listenable project – just doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before. If you want a band that will leave your head spinning, go elsewhere. If you want a record that does its job well without the theatrics, go for Roses and Clover.

ALO hits a stride from the get go. “Maria”, a metaphor-laden piano-rock love song bounces its way towards an elated conclusion: “You are an ocean, my emerald sea/I think ahead to the days when your waves will envelope me/I’m just overflowing with love for you/’Cause you fill my cup and my body, too.”

Sincere without the over-earnestness that plagues most pop music, “Maria” is as good as any song on Roses and Clover at illustrating what this band does well. It grooves without meandering, and it pushes itself forward on its own momentum. Derivative, perhaps, but no one can call it uninspired. Vocally, Zach Gill (on keys) sounds warm and engaged. The band sounds inspired and energetic. Not a bad start.

“Empty Vessel (A Pledge of No Allegiance)” is a snappy piano-driven rock tune written by the drummer Dave Brogan (yes – drummers are musicians, evidently) that is bouncy and lilting, if not entirely engaging. Here is where I have trouble with the record. The sound is excellent, the musicians are digging into their work, but little is being created. Mostly, this is a song of recycled material that is cleverly pieced together into a rather cohesive, if not unique, piece of music.

“Shine” reveals itself as the most accomplished and unique track the album has to offer, with an atmospheric drive and seemingly effortless beauty. Replete with Tin Hat Triostyle accordion flourishes and a space-reggae vibe, the song takes one beyond his own place for a bit. Interestingly, the song is little more than a soul-ballad, it's just dressed a little differently than most. Again, Gill shows off his range vocally, hitting falsetto notes and long, undulating cries that crackle along the song’s bubbly groove.

Clean, sharp, honest, and at times rocking, Roses and Clover delivers good tracks. The title track – a funky, punctuated soul-rock song delivers no big answers amongst its big picture postulation. Thank god for that. Soulful modesty is the modus operandi for this track and indeed the whole album, which does hit an honest stride.

Sometimes, even recycled sounds can be nice to listen to. Even some of the most jaded music geeks find themselves jamming along to some new rock radio hit that sounds like all the others. It’s all about timing for the fans and the bands. Whether or not Roses and Clover will be ALO’s zeitgeist moment is hard to tell, but what is for certain is that there are people out there who want music like this. Simple, good rock songs done well. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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