[16 February 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Massachusetts band Winterpills is something of a house band for the small Americana music label Signature Sounds. There’s a few reasons for this: vocalist/keyboardist Flora Reed moonlights as the label’s Director of Publicity, and guitarist Dennis Crommett released a pretty good solo album in his own right on the label last year called In the Buffalo Surround. Thus, Winterpills feels like a “family affair”. More to the point, though, Winterpills encapsulate the ragged chamber pop beauty, with country and folkish edges, that is seemingly a poster child for all things Signature Sounds: Winterpills is very much the Signature Sound of the label proper. And what a label it is. While the Signature Sounds catalogue is some 50 albums deep, and it would be impossible for someone to listen to everything the label has put out without being some kind of fetishist, what this reviewer has heard from them leads me to conclude that you can’t really go wrong when purchasing something from that stable. Based on my experiences with label bands like Lake Street Dive, Joy Kills Sorrow, Crooked Still and others, it seems that Signature Sounds – a label that specializes in Americana, jazzy pop, folk and bluegrass—really hasn’t released something that is outright horrible. There’s a bevy of quality that the Signature Sounds stamp represents, something that leads me to eagerly await something new from them, so having a band like Winterpills being a public presence due to the intertwined nature that its band members have invested in the label is probably a wise and astute thing.
All My Lovely Goners, Winterpills’ four proper long player, is a joyous affair, one that is reminiscent of an updated, East Coast version of Fleetwood Mac in their ‘70s heyday—just without the cocaine paranoia. Reed comes across as a less abrasive Stevie Nicks, and even the acoustic ditty “The Sun Is Alone” is kind of a spiritual cousin to “Landslide”. The songs here are firmly rooted in acoustic country and folk, with the odd rocking flourish, and the collection of 13 tracks is remarkably strong and consistent, with the delightful trading off of male and female vocals, all seemingly wrapped around a loose thematic of astrological phenomena. That said, there isn’t anything particularly new or invigorating about All My Lovely Goners, but, for the most part, the songwriting is of the highest caliber and the album provides a lovely soundtrack to those grey and gloomy winter days where the temperature is just mild enough to create a bit of a thaw.
The album’s high water marks are scattered throughout. Fourth song, “Rogue Highway”, hands-down my favourite song here, is a power pop barnburner that sounds a little like what you’d get if Wilco had channelled the big rock hooks of Big Star. “Sunspots (Ruins)”, the penultimate track, is a lilting acoustic guitar ballad with arpeggio chords that sticks with the listener, and, despite being slightly more than five minutes long, doesn’t overstay its welcome. “Minxy” has the poppy shambolic feel of an Elliott Smith song. And the aforementioned “The Sun is Alone” is a lonely piece of songcraft buoyed by the angelic vocals of Reed. All in all, there’s a lot to wind up admiring about All My Lovely Goners in all of its monumental and glorious beauty.
All My Lovely Goners isn’t perfect: at 13 tracks long, with many of them reaching into the four and five minute mark, the album feels a little unnaturally long and could have used a little judicious pruning. In particular, the piano-driven “Dying Star” seems a little too Billy Joel-ish for its own good, and is the weakest thing to be found on this artistic statement. “Pretty Girls” also suffers from rather mundane lyrics: “Pretty girls just make me cry” and, alternately, “Pretty girls just make me sad”, which tiptoes gently into “Can I Borrow a Feeling” territory. However, in spite of these minor setbacks, All My Lovely Goners has all of the hallmarks of a great record trying to burst out, and listeners of Americana and rocking folk music will be generally pleased with the efforts put forth by the band. If you’ve been following the recording output of the Signature Sounds label, All My Lovely Goners is another album that you can add to the growing pile of records that it has released that are lovingly handcrafted. While All My Lovely Goners isn’t as jaw-droppingly brilliant as Lake Street Dive or This Unknown Science, albums by other Signature Sounds bands, it is pretty good in its own right and a worthy listen for those searching out raw honesty and quality songcraft – the kind of stuff they only make on small, homespun labels such as Signature Sounds. Thank God for small miracles, that labels as good and generally consistent as this are able to exist.