Record Reviews


Vance Joy

Album: “Nation of Two”

Grade: A-

If ukuleles make their way back onto the pop charts, you can probably thank Vance Joy.

The Australian singer-songwriter delivers an exciting sophomore effort with “Nation of Two,” a 13-track collection in which he proves he isn’t too cool to play a little uke, banjo or even that guitar-ukulele hybrid known as a guitalele.

Joy, born James Keogh, had a breakout hit with 2013’s ukulele-led “Riptide” and became the opening act for Taylor Swift. This is his time to really shine – and he seizes it.

The sensitive strummer links up with several veteran songwriters – including three tunes with Dave Bassett and three with Dan Wilson – for an album of very personal love songs. Joy is all over the CD, writing or co-writing every song and even contributing to the cover art.

The clear standout track is the alt-rock anthem “We’re Going Home” but other beauties include the uke-led ditty “Saturday Sun,” the slow-burning “Alone With Me” and the achingly beautiful “I’m With You.”

If you yearn for music by Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and even early Ed Sheeran, these are your jams – earthy, folky and honest. Joy’s songs are nicely not overly produced, allowing a little charming vocal strain every once in a while.

–Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

Darlingside

Album: “Extralife”

Grade: B

Not everything Darlingside does turns to gold, and yet the stylistic quartet out of Massachusetts doesn’t sound like anybody else.

On its latest release, “Extralife,” the band continues down an utterly original path through an inconsistent 12-track set. The style is a melding of folk, chamber pop, baroque, progressive and indie rock that defies labeling. The lyrics sometimes veer into pretentiousness, more so than on the group’s breakthrough 2015 release, “Birds Say,” and some of the melodies are cloying.

But there also are moments of great majesty.

Some of the band’s influences lie near the surface. Its members surely played the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” on repeat until they mastered the four-part harmonies (they also might have absorbed some of the lyrical touches of that psychedelic era, the kind that sounded brilliant under the influence but later made no sense).

But the sound is rooted in harmony, and when Darlingside gets it right and leaves the search for deeper meaning aside, the effect can be sublime. This happens more than once on “Extralife,” especially on “Singularity” and “Hold Your Head Up High.”

On the latter, the band lays seamless harmonies over an urgently simple acoustic guitar. When horns join the chorus as the song builds to a crescendo, it echoes the gentle, unfettered encouragement of the lyrics in a manner that will find a home on many a no-depression playlist.

So yes, the album suffers from inconsistency. But when it reaches up and grabs you, it soars.

–Scott Stroud, Associated Press

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