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The Old Sweethearts - Arms of the Town Review
By Patrick Muldowney

If I had to describe the Old Sweethearts in five words I might label their sound as southern feel with mass appeal. In all reality though, any simple attempt to label this band would be misleading. In fact, if someone had attempted to describe them to me prior to my first encounter with their music, I would have immediately dismissed them, but luckily they caught me by surprise. I was on a band blind date the night I heard the Old Sweethearts. I'm sure you've had that special occasion when a friend tries to hook you up with a new sound, and you get all spiffed up hoping this is the one. Of course, with such a great build-up, not to mention the two hour drive, I could only be disappointed when my band date was a bland version of June of 44. Luckily another band was yet to come, and as they took the stage I made some asinine bet with my friend that this unassuming entourage would be post-grunge. Obviously, since I poorly constructed the suspense, the band was the Old Sweethearts, and just like the guy who always likes the other girl, I liked the other band.

Onto Arms of the Town, which is the second album from the Old Sweethearts, but in some ways a debut album, considering the first album was basically a band accompaniment to Roger Bryan's solo efforts. I must confess that for this reason, and also the sophomore jinx theory, I felt a bit of trepidation in choosing this review. I would have felt a great deal of guilt giving the new album a poor review without ever getting to praise the first effort, In Regards to Your Affairs. Thankfully, the second album may leave even less room for criticism than the first, as it allows the entire band to display its talent musically, while the inclusion of Mark Nosowicz's voice more prominently this time around provides a nice balance to Bryan.

It is very difficult to pick the songs that stand out on Arms of the Town, because they have an innate ability to write solid songs, so your favorites might change based on mood or even the amount of times you listen. Regardless, the album begins with one of its strongest tracks, "Levers", which begins, once again unassumingly, with soothing keyboards and some slide guitar while Roger Bryan, with a gentle rasp, sings a verse about loss and love. All popular music listeners know that millions of songs are written around this topic, but we seek some original way to hear the message, and Bryan achieves this when he sings, "I know it's easier to go/I know it can't be far from home/The little levers in your heart cry out." Soon after this delivery, the band transitions into an up tempo ending, that kicks the album into gear.

"Anything," the second track on the album, might be the most radio friendly song among many possibilities. It is driven by a rhythm section that immediately puts the head into a nod, and may result in feet tapping, and even dancing if you're not too careful. It also features a keyboard sound that is a little different for the band. From the prior album, and many points on this album, you might get the feeling that Nosowicz is solely into the classic tones a la 60s and 70s pop, but he shows his ability to mix it up here with a tone similar to more recent bands like Eels or The Anniversary (first album). The lyrics and guitars complete the hook, making this a capable hit.

It's funny that "Snare Drum Hearts" is the third track on the album, because it brings the band back to the classic sound, even ending with a moog sound reminiscent of The Beach Boys. This features Nosowicz on lead vocals, who has some similarities to Roger Waters, Roger McGuinn, and Warren Zevon, not saying these three sound alike. The harmonies here really make this the strongest song vocally. I would easily accept anyone's argument that this is the best song on the album.

One listen to this album, and most people (remember my "mass appeal" claim) would understand why I could go through this album pointing out strengths track by track, but even praise can become boring, so I will limit myself to one more track. "Letter from Nowhere" is an absolute gem on the last half of the disc. Like "Anywhere," it features a really catchy drumbeat and the currently trendy keyboard tone, but it also has a guitar line that draws the listener completely in. This is a track I could easily picture being prominent in any movie with a romantic element.

The basic message is that the Old Sweethearts are an incredibly talented band that appears to be hitting their stride with Arms of the Town. I enjoy listening to this album in much the same way I enjoy listening to The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Even when the lyrics concern heartbreak, there always seems to be something in the music and melody to feel good about. This album should definitely have a space reserved for your collection.

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The Old Sweethearts - Arms of the Town

Label:Harvest Sum

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