By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Listening to “Virginia’s Playlist” – the new album from Third Class – is a bit like looking at someone else’s family photo album.
The lyrics reconstruct memories of frontman Lee Boyle. Snippets of audio recordings from his childhood, or from tape-recorded messages to and from his parents, are interspersed as song intros.
Musically, the acoustic album has a tone that can best be described as happily melancholy. And while “Playlist” is long at 20 songs, it flows effortlessly, staying on topic and avoiding any misstep.
Third Class – Jack Boyle and Pepe Parish complete the long-lived band – also makes stirring use of a piano in several songs. The result is that “Playlist” (available at thirdclass.net) is one of the best, and most unique, local albums of the year.
Boyle said he started using the family recordings on his podcast and then realized they were a natural for the album.
“[My parents] were the same age as I am now when the recordings were made, and I saw many similarities,” he said. “And I’ve always had a love of poetry, so it seemed like a perfect fit to put the recordings on the album. It seemed cheesy to just put poetry on an album, but this gets around it. I found the spoken word to be poetry.”
On Third Class’ previous album, “Hymns from Some Small Town” (2014), Boyle began to explore his past through the inspiration of a summer spent as a counselor at an outdoorsy youth camp in the Pacific Northwest, where he was born.
That introspection continues on the new release.
“The sound is in evolution, but the lyrics are a return to unfinished business,” said Boyle. “It seems like an unearthed diary, and that’s intentional.”
The Boyles’ Northwest roots even gave the album its name, albeit in random – if not misleading – fashion.
“Jack [Lee’s brother and band mate] was in Washington [state] not long ago, and he was looking at somebody’s iPod and saw ‘Virginia’s playlist’ on it,” said Boyle. “Virginia is a friend’s mom. At that time we were developing a lot of songs, and it seemed like it was going to be a ‘skip-around’ type of album, so we said, ‘Let’s use that word playlist for the next album.’ And also, Virginia is a pretty name and it had a connection with the Pacific Northwest. So we kept it.”
The name Alan Watts also surfaces a few times on the album – a reference to the late British philosopher whom the Boyle family has long respected. One song is about a road trip that Boyle’s father made to California many years ago to try to meet Watts.
After the release of its previous album in December 2014, Third Class toured heavily the following year.
The act was practically invisible this year but plans to repeat its previous strategy.
“2016 was a purposeful lull so we could recuperate,” said Boyle. “We all work full time. But 2017 will be a lot like 2015.”
The band has booked a lengthy series of shows that begins Friday at Cedars West End, with a second show Saturday at Soap Gallery as part of First Night Youngstown.
Boyle also will mix in some solo shows. “The songs lend themselves to that,” he said. “The essence is still there.”