Opening the jewel case and removing the When It Sinks In CD — tastefully painted to look like a vinyl record, grooves and all — on the under side of the case, one finds a picture of the band, Farewell Milwaukee, standing in snow in front of a tiny mobile home that looks as though it was dropped in the middle of nowhere. It’s a stark, desolate image that serves to reinforce the remoteness of the barren Midwest. The picture is similar to one the Jayhawks used on the cover of Hollywood Town Hall.
Fittingly, the music on When It Sinks In bears a very strong, almost uncanny resemblance to music made by that more renowned Twin Cities band. Farewell Milwaukee’s strong suit is the gorgeous, youthful two- and three-part vocal harmonies heard throughout the album. Lead vocalist/guitarist Ben Lubeck and guitarist/vocalist Aaron Markson both sing in the tenor vocal range and carry a lovely, Midwestern lilt. There’s lots of lulling acoustic guitar and touches of twangy electric guitar and weepy pedal steel, sultry piano and whirling organs and a steady rhythm section. Sound familiar, Jayhawks’ fans?
When It Sinks In’s 13 songs here are about love, the pure unadulterated heartfelt kind that arrives with the essence of youth. But it’s done without cheeky clichés or sappy sentimentalism. Opener “The Wallpaper’s Gonna Swallow You Whole” has an upbeat rock melody with shimmering electric guitar chime and breezy piano, and creatively pleads for a wallflower to open up to love’s promise. And on “Ain’t No Rules” the songwriter instigates that lovers must break the rules in order to know each other, assimilating the story of Phillippe Petit, the Frenchman famous for his daring and illegal high wire walk between the World Trade Center Towers in the ’70s:
“When your fate’s tied to a balance beam
And your feet could cost you everything
You gotta break all the rules to know
That there ain’t any rules anymore.”
Lovers struggle through personal turmoil in the gorgeous title cut, a ballad with twangy guitar harmony, but endure on the strength of their love for each other. Neither “Always Be Your Man” or “Waiting on You” hide lovers’ emotions; the former is laced with sweet acoustic guitar and dense, swirling Wurlitzer, while the latter is more upbeat and filled out with harmonic pedal steel guitar.
“Find Some Grace For Me” is an aching heartbreaker about a rock and roller with wanderlust in his eyes and a lover aiming to keep him safe in her arms at home. The delicate, lovely three-part vocal harmonies on the chorus evoke a youthful, angelic choir. On the other hand, the boisterous bar band sing-a-long “Living On Your Looks” scorns a past-her-prime starlet for not making more of her self later in life. Here, those same vocal harmonies are vigorous and forceful, yet not loud or over powerful. These are two prime examples of the exquisite vocal harmonies amongst the band members.
The album’s best cut is the spiraling, churning rocker, “You Are the Only One”. It’s got a mid ’70s Laurel Canyon vibe — a sound the Jayhawks certainly strived to emulate — thanks to dual wailing electric and slide guitars and more three-part vocal harmonies, this time including female accompaniment.
The disc closes with the bluegrass ditty “Loveable/Kind”, a sincere ode to love at first site, replete with more eloquent harmonies and sensual violin and banjo and tambourine. It’s the heart of the album and the perfect synopsis to the unabashed love that runs throughout When It Sinks In.