Low-Key Campfire Classics
Starlings, TN aren’t exactly folk traditionalists, but their aesthetics certainly wouldn’t indicate that. All of the songs on Heartache in 4/4 Time are rustic numbers that are almost entirely acoustic. Most of the songs on the record have built-in narratives and an easy-going vibe to them, evoking a back-roads atmosphere. Like some of the genre’s best songs, everything feels a little familiar. However, that also stands as one of the genre’s biggest pitfalls. No matter how much chugging palm-muted electric guitar props these songs up, several of them simply float by pleasantly but never really gripping the listener. Fortunately, that’s easily remedied by investing time in the songs so that they slowly reveal their various charms.
The first moment where the record does actually jump out a little is on the devastatingly beautiful “One More Time” in which the record takes its name from. “One More Time” also presents Starlings, TN bandleader Steven Stubblefiel as a serious songwriting talent. That’s a fact that really hits home in the aforementioned line that goes “Well, I play on my guitar so the hours fly by / Every chord I strum’s got you on my mind. My heart ache’s in 4/4 time.” It’s a gorgeous moment in a perfect song where Starlings, TN reveal their full potential. “Wear Your Smile” is another song that slowly grows from a standard verse into an absolutely stunning chorus section aided by lush instrumentation. It helps that most of these songs are the standard three minutes as well because not a moment gets wasted. “Aragon Mill” is a slight change in tempo and one of the record’s most unassuming tracks but the songwriting and vocal arrangement help keep it engaging enough to want to listen to the whole thing. “Firearms and Seeds” remedies the occasional bland-ness of the instrumentation by being one of the more daring tracks on Heartache in 4/4 Time and features a chorus that approaches ambient territory. It’s also the first time the electric guitarist is really given freedom and he makes the most of it.
Then there’s the show-stopping eerie stunner “A Girl From Tchoupitolas St.” which plays up Starlings, TN ambient aspect even more. It drifts along in a menacing fashion, revealing a darker aspect that the band’s only hinted at previously. Transitioning from that discordant jarring left-field entry into familiar hoe-down territory is definitely a shaky jump but it doesn’t distract too much from the record’s pacing, although “Dry County in Hell” probably would’ve benefited from a different placement on the record. Those two tracks paired together not only diminish the impact of the latter song but make it even more obvious that “Daylight Saving” one of the record’s least interesting moments.
Unfortunately, up until Heartache in 4/4 Time‘s spectacular closing track “You Will Heal” the last stretch of the record never really recovers from gut-punch of “Girl From Tchoupitolas St.” and while the record plays out fine after it, none of the songs can measure up. While “You Will Heal” comes remarkably close to making up for it as the last track is slightly unbelievable and the song stands out as one of Heartache in 4/4 Time‘s strongest highlights. What the back half of Heartache in 4/4 Time ends up aptly illustrating is the errant nature of the folk genre and how easy it is to succumb to becoming too unassuming and lose grasp on what makes a song dynamic. Fortunately, there’s more than enough in Heartache in 4/4 Time‘s first half to be worth a listen.
// Notes from the Road
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