The Lucksmiths: Warmer Corners

[23 May 2005]

By Justin Cober-Lake

It’s simple to see why the Lucksmiths haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. It’s all so easy. The jangly guitars and pleasant melodies don’t demand anything of the listener and make ideal hammock accompaniment. Songs like those on Warmer Corners could have come from anyone; it’s just the kind of pop music that’s out there for anyone to record.

Or at least it seems that way. Upon reflection, the Lucksmiths have a fair amount going on in their music, starting with the formal structure of the lyrics. The singing flows so smoothly, it’s almost as if these are melodies you’ve heard before, yet the band seldom uses standard pop phrasing, loading the lines with enjambment and avoiding any sing-song sense that could easily arise. The vocalists tend to perform these lengthy lines across comfortable chord changes that, along with the occasional colloquialisms, lend a conversational feel to what are actually very smart and carefully-composed verses.

In terms of content, the lyrics (provided primarily by guitarist Marty Donald and Bassist Mark Monnone) sift through subtle shifts of mood, never reaching ecstasy or despair while exploring the emotions of the everyday. At times, they’ve got a funny side, as in “Great Lengths”, which contains the gem “You had your father’s charm and thus your mother’s Volvo”. Even in the moment of humor, the Lucksmiths keep the lyric just off-kilter. With the slant-rhyme of car so readily apparent, Donald throws in the precise twist of Volvo. The word choice allows him to draw attention to the oddity of the statement even while adding specificity to the scene.

Musically, the band relies more on the loveliness of its sound than on memorable hooks or technical proficiency, and I’ll take that in a minute. The orchestration works really well, from the addition of horns to the smooth use of pedal steel guitar. The sound of the album gives a friendlier invitation than the often disappointed or wistful lyrics, but it, too, never hedges toward euphoria. This isn’t window-down music; it’s a head-against-the-pane soundtrack. The Lucksmiths create art without artsiness and evoke emotion without melodrama. What could be easier than that?

So all of that’s very nice and academic, but the Lucksmiths sound easy. The effect is that you find yourself playing this record more than you anticipated, because not only is it easy to the ears, but it’s easy to connect to. You find yourself drawn toward little touches like the cello and the whistling on “I Don’t Want to Walk Around No More”. Or, if you’re feeling happier, you skip ahead just one track to “The Fog of Trujillo”, which encapsulates that moment when you realize your current relationship is just what you want, and why. The lounge-y horns sounds are restful bliss.

The group smartly closes Warmer Corners with the album’s best ending track (it sounds obvious, but it’s not always done). “Fiction” begs for interpretation, raises questions of narrator reliability, and generally po-mos itself up. But forget that, because it’s beautiful. It’s acoustic guitar and banjo and pedal steel and desire and nostalgia and romance. It’s about a tattoo. It’s about something lost, and something held, and something perfect in its distance. It’s a fiction, and reality. It’s earnestness and deceit. It’s beautiful.

For the first time on the album, the Lucksmiths call attention to themselves, or at least to a song. But then you forget about that immediately, because you’re really paying attention to that beer bottle on the bookshelf (theirs and yours) and that longing that they have no part in. And you also remember your fulfillment.

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