[21 March 2006]
New York bands are a dime a dozen, maybe even a nickel a dozen. And so are the bars or venues that are around the “Big Apple”. As a result, there are hordes of groups vying to land gigs all the time in hopes of landing that big deal. Others couldn’t really give a hoot if it comes along or not. And Feathermerchants seem to be such a band. Led by Shannon Kennedy, this band is able to blend the pop and rock worlds with their own jazz influences, making for some experimental and very refreshing bits of sound. The group’s 2003 release Unarmed Against The Dark caught a lot of people off guard for its strength, and this album only reinforces that point.
Kennedy’s soothing and sultry, whispery vocals are somewhere between Diana Krall and Natalie Merchant, particularly on the slow building but quite confident pop rock of the title track. Resembling 10,000 Maniacs to some extent with a hell of a lot more bite, Feathermerchants nail this little jewel for all its worth, meandering through the first verse in a bluesy vein before gathering steam in verse two. The chorus has all the little intangibles that make it work easier than it would for most groups. The guitars then take control and all is better for it. And from there, they return to the smoky, jazz lounge styling they do oh so well, particularly on the slow and somewhat sexy “Change My Night” that features the subtle guitars, bass line, and precious drum brushes.
The album is screaming dichotomy at every turn, for after this number we’re right back where they started off with. “Head To The Here And Now” again begins with a slow, swaying and somewhat winding pop rock feeling that is driven by Kennedy’s vocals and the rhythm section. “Let me go/Please let me out of the cold” she sings with the comfy harmonies in the distance. Murky and swampy, the song is big without being too busy or bombastic. Feathermerchants also have an uncanny knack for picking out melodies out of the air, particularly with “Finish Last” as Kennedy sings about being kicked in the teeth and having trouble seeing straight which are references to being in love. Complex but very groovy, the tune grows on you just before it ends almost a minute or at least half minute too soon.
Another thing they have going for them of course is Kennedy’s pipes that can do just about anything that is needed. Just when you think “Go For A Walk” is heading down a seedy, run-of-the-mill blues rock effort, they saunter through a mid-tempo pop flavor and then full bore into a power pop backbeat, somewhat like Texas did all those years ago with “I Don’t Want A Lover”. But then moves into a slower, haunting track fuelled by some nifty guitar squeals. Unfortunately “Hitchcock Blonde” has that same aura to it but never finds any gold, just ambling along adequately enough with someone banging away on a toy piano. The feel the need to atone however with perhaps the highlight of the record entitled “Bindy” that is perfect pop that sounds like it should have been influencing bands 20 years ago. There’s a certain timeless quality about this track that makes everything flow, even having a certain U2 circa The Joshua Tree percussion vibe through it.
Following an airy, trance-inducing “Hollow”, the band try on a cover for size, this time “Under The Milky Way” that was done by The Church. Doing it probably the only way they know how, Feathermerchants rely on a well-crafted, moody blend of jazz-pop and a strong guitar undercurrent with the almost obligatory subtle twists and turns. By now they’ve proven they’ve made another darling of an album, so they conclude with “The Long Goodbye” with dual lead vocals this time. Nonetheless, fears of a sophomore slump are greatly unfounded by this group who create their own little niche by pushing the boundaries of others.