[27 January 2012]
Say what you will about Counting Crows, the divisive band that shares members with Tender Mercies, but you’d never mistake that band for anyone else. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for this by-the-numbers side-project. Despite the spot-the-classic-influence appeal of even the Crows’ best work, its lifts are in service to a singular band identity tied to both a distinctive front man and unique instrumental interplay. On Tender Mercies’ recorded debut, guitarist Dan Vickrey revives his early ‘90s folk rock band with the help of Crows drummer Jim Bogios, but personality is overshadowed by rote competence. Despite the band having recorded these 11 tracks as demos in Vickrey’s house as a labor of love, they possess little homespun charm or personality. Even with members trading off songwriting and vocal duties (chiefly Vickrey and guitarist Patrick Winningham), Tender Mercies accomplishes a bland homogeneity. This, itself, might be considered an identity of sorts were the songs not based on templates from the Alt-Country Songwriters’ Guide to Grit-Free, Rootsy Americana or burdened with forced imagery and rhymes like “She had skin like a statue / Milky white and pure / Smoothed by an artist / Hands so demure”.