[28 March 2012]
The Cerny Brothers, Robert and Scott, have a listenable, pleasant take on the folk/Americana genre. The songs on Dream, their debut album, are simple and unfussy. This isn’t exactly a novel take on the style, but it’s well-crafted enough to push the album into territory where it feels warm and comfortable. This could easily have gone the other direction and been stale and tiresome, and it’s to their credit that it doesn’t.
The brothers are ably assisted on the album by the seven-member Giving Tree Band, who play nearly all of the instruments on Dream. While the album begins with a pair of solid opening songs, the languid “Whoa Whoa Whoa” and the easy-rolling “I Want You to Run”, it doesn’t really take off until track three, “She’s Always on my Mind.” Taking a page from the Avett Brothers playbook, the song starts slowly and quietly and builds until the second verse. At this point it bursts into a joyous, uptempo singalong. The brothers’ harmonies really lock in on the chorus, and the Giving Tree Band’s smart arrangement emphasizes the drums, banjo, and violin while letting the Cerny Brothers voices stay front and center. The next song, the slow 6/8 ballad “Caroline”, works because of Robert Cerny’s aching lead vocal performance. The band also deserves credit for having the balls to use the phrase “Sweet Caroline” in the song’s chorus and not reference the Neil Diamond classic in any overt way.
The beautiful ballad “Too Damn Hard” is the only track on the album in which the brothers go it alone. It features only an acoustic guitar and the brothers’ harmonies, and it’s one of the album’s best songs. For the most part, though, the presence of the backing band enhances the songs. The unison quarter note pattern The Giving Tree Band comes up with in the middle of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Light” turns a run-of-the-mill folk song into something resembling a march. Too bad they don’t stick with it for the entire song. The robust arrangement for “Sing Out of My Soul” takes the song’s self-pitying “the world feels awful sometimes” lyrics and makes it sound like an epic plea to ease the world’s troubles. “Undone”, another sad track, replaces the full band with a solo piano, giving it a wholly different tone color than the rest of the album. The jaunty “Less a Man” has an easygoing lightness that belies its refrain, “Now I’m less a man / Now I’m less a man / If I even was at all.”
There’s a lot of good material on Dream, and the Cerny Brothers’ sound is right in the middle of folk/Americana’s cushy center. On the other hand, there isn’t really much to the album that sets the brothers apart from their peers. The songs are solid, and the mid-album three-track run of “She’s Always on My Mind”, “Caroline”, and “Too Damn Hard” is flat-out great. But at times the brothers sound like a less-energetic Avett Brothers; the fact that they’re also a pair of real-life singing/songwriting brothers won’t help those comparisons. Still, there’s enough meat to Dream to give the Cerny Brothers a fighting shot at a real career in an increasingly crowded genre.