They had me at the first jangle.
How often do you fall utterly and permanently under the
spell of a pop album after just a song or two? Some records are like that,
though; among those janglers I count as timeless, there’s Boylan Heights (The Connells, 1987), New Miserable Experience (Gin Blossoms,
1992), The Backyard (Miracle Legion,
1984), and Wait Till the Morning (Winter Hours, 1986). And if you’re familiar with any of those titles, you’ll
most likely find the one at hand to hold meaning and resonance.
Last Chance Runaround is an Atlanta area duo, songwriter/guitarist Scott
Roberts and harpist (not harmonica) Sue Volkert; the Winter Hours mention,
above, isn’t just incidental, as the band actually takes its name from a line
in a W.H. song. Both musicians sing, with Roberts generally taking the lead and
Volkert supplying angelic harmonies, and both handle additional instrumentation
so the studio recordings have a full-band feel. They’ve been around since the
middle of the last decade, issuing an EP and gradually amassing a devoted
following regionally and in a few other locales. It’s not hard to hear why, and
with the release of Alter Idem (“the
same, but different”) there’s no question their lush, luminous sound will find
a wider audience.
The album’s an engaging mix of originals and some well-chosen
covers – among the latter, a delightful reworking of “Cast A Shadow” that, with
Volkert taking lead, actually surpasses the Beat Happening version; Let It Be gem “Two Of Us,” a natural fit
for a pair that harmonize so perfectly together; and two Winter Hours (well, of course) tunes, the upbeat “At A
Turtle’s Pace” (which was included on last year’s W.H. tribute A Few Uneven Rhymes) and the fragile,
hypnotic “Hyacinth Girl” (anyone who fell in love with that song a
quarter-century ago, be prepared to be smitten anew). Roberts’ own compositions
hold up to close inspection, too, from the Gene Clark-like “The Sun Came Down,”
a showcase for his formidable pipes, to the yearning, deeply sensual “Lonely
More,” which pushes Volkert’s harp and keys to the forefront to great effect.
And then there’s that first jangle.
Alter Idem opens
on a bedspring of minimalist organ, then Roberts unfurls the sweetest plangent
riff this side of “Gardening at Night,” “Found Out About You” or “She Don’t
Care About Time.” The song is “Fingers Crossed,” and against a backdrop of
strums, organ, tambourine and a reassuringly midtempo pulse, Roberts sings,
with a twinned measure of hope and trepidation creeping into his delivery,
“Keeping my fingers crossed/ That I won’t make the same mistake again/ Time
after time/ I made my bed/ And now I’m lying in it/ One more chance/ And I
would feel better/ Making endless vows/ That I can’t forget her.” Volkert’s
voice rises to meet his on the chorus, a sonic metaphor suggesting how lovers
come together and fall apart – a real lump in throat moment that only a curmudgeon
would try to deny.
It’s moments like that – and yeah, those first jangles –
that devotees of well-crafted, deeply emotional pop live for. Artists such as Last
Chance Runaround instinctively grasp this potency of nuance, and as a result,
for the rest of us this cruel ol’ world’s just a bit warmer, brighter and
easier to navigate.
Standout Tracks: “Fingers
Crossed,” “Hyacinth Girl,” “Lonely More” FRED MILLS