"The Eclectic Troubadours are a band of serious musicians on a quest to challenge themselves musically but to also play songs people like. That quote rather succinctly sums up this album. The four band members are all based in New York City, where they work as freelance musicians. Some lead their own bands; all are very adept instrumentalists, even if they are playing well within their capabilities here.
The best songs here are the instrumentals. The opener, "You'll Never... Hear Surf Music Again, is a rather good recreation of the '60s surf soundthink Dick Dale, The Surfaris, The Venturescomplete with wobbly, tinny keyboard sound and reverb guitar. Pure nostalgia, pure heaven! Less successful are the vocal numbers; although the instrumental sound is as good, David Phelps' vocals are adequate but nothing more. On "Sunset is Blue, a slow-paced ballad, his crooning just goes on and on and on. And "Life in Vain really plumbs the depths, a bombastic plodding cod rock song, unworthy of the musicianship of which these players are capable. Such a pity.
Thankfully (mercifully!) things pick up again with "Sheikh, another instrumental, built around a neat riff and featuring Phelps' guitar. Better still is "Subcontinental Homesick Blues, on which Michael Belar plays accordion, giving the piece a relaxed, lilting groove. Finally, "Watermelon is a funky workout that hints that the band has put in time listening to The Meters.
If the group's next album is completely instrumental, count me in; but if it's weighted more towards the vocals....
David Phelps: guitar, vocals; Scott Neuman: drums, cymbals; Jim Whitney: string bass;
Michael Belar: keyboards, accordion.
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