Some people might have been surprised to see a debut album by relative unknowns make it to No.1 on iTunes’ pop albums chart (No.3 overall), but the Sons of Sylvia and their album Revelation is very surprising.
Coming from a musical family, the Clark brothers were originally members of the Clark Family Experience. The group’s record label attempted to combine the family band craze of the ’90s with the then modern sound of country, and somewhat failed. This led to a nasty legal battle that ended when the group filed for bankruptcy in 2000. Then in 2007, Ashley, Adam, and Austin Clark, who had been playing as members of Carrie Underwood’s back-up band, auditioned for the American Idol-esque The Next Great American Band. Performing weekly as the Clark Brothers, they went on to win the competition, despite criticism about the fact that they were a part of Idol’s in-house band. Further legal issues and a record label change required them to change their band name again, so they became the Sons of Sylvia.
Just as their name evokes, they are close-knit family type of people and their music reflects that. All of the songs on their debut album are either written or co-written by one or all of the brothers. Lead single, “Love Left To Lose”, was produced and co-written by their cousin, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who has also written hit songs for Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce’, Timbaland, and others.
A crucial factor in the brothers’ music is their strong belief in God. Tracks like “Revelation”, “The War Within”, and “Song of Solomon” (which is a loose interpretation of the Biblical book of the same name) show this off. “The War Within” features some revivalist preaching in its background, in homage to their preacher father. Their music is often very personal, especially in the case of the title track. Stating that he “was born the day John Lennon died”, it is basically a musical autobiography of lead singer Ashley Clark. One of the best songs on the album, it closely follows the bluegrass-inspired rock sound that they portrayed on The Next Great American Band.
Unfortunately, the consequences of their record contract prize seem to be the odd directions that their music is sometimes pushed into. One of the key reasons why the group received so much praise on the show was because of its brilliant, inspired instrumentation. Regrettably, the sounds of Adam Clark’s mandolin and Austin Clark’s dobro and lap steel guitars are sometimes drowned out in production. While the country pop of “Love Left To Lose” is a good fit for a crossover hit, other songs sound a little too over-produced in an attempt to turn the group into the next Lonestar, or even a Nashville version of OneRepublic. However, some of this experimentation is what makes the Sons of Sylvia so unique. “The War Within” is a mixture of chanting, whispering, shouting, heavy metal guitar riffs, and the sound of footsteps in the snow that is so far the most unique song of the year. Going on for over six minutes, it is their “Revolution 9”. Another delightful surprise is “Ghost Town”, a techno-country stunner that incorporates synthesized keyboards and eerie vocals.
Ashley Clark does the vast majority of the singing in this group, and he is an undiscovered gem. His vocal range goes from whispers to screams and everything in between, and he often does all of this in the same song. On the few less interesting songs that appear on Revelation, his voice gives you reason not to press the skip button. However, the entire group’s songwriting skills shouldn’t be ignored either. In “Long Beach”, the line “I shouldn’t believe in this place, I shouldn’t believe in the interstate” is the clever highlight of the entire song.
To sum things up, Revelation is an interesting, decent debut album for a group who has the potential to become something really great. If the brothers can keep their creative juices going and transfer some of the energy of their spirited performances into their future recordings, the Sons of Sylvia will be praised and celebrated many years from now.