What is an iTunes session besides another marketing ploy to get a few more listeners and possibly make a couple of extra bucks along the way? The majority of the time, the featured band comes into the studio for a day or less, cranks out some well rehearsed and already released songs, and gets to call it another album. If we’re lucky, said band will drop a new single on its wishful listeners, or perform old songs with a slight twist – just to switch up a little. Then, an unsuspecting writer will ask to review said “album”, only to realize that he’s been had. Well, consider us lucky, and consider me unsuspecting. Not that it matters at all if I, or we, have been had. This iTunes Session is, just like the album it’s publicizing and the band that put it out, worth quite a few listens.
If you’re not familiar with the young The Head and the Heart, you should be. They’re only about two years and one album old, but somehow they managed to make one of the more impressively listenable records of 2010 with their debut self-titled disc. The Seattle sextet leans on crisp harmonies and piano-based songs. Like some of the other more steadfast indie pop groups of late, they have a knack for 70s folk but sway a bit further to a Beatlesque rhythm. Their songwriting is equally tenable: It rises and falls with the pounding of Kenny Hensley’s piano, gains steam on Chris Zasche’s bass, and reaches its peaks on the voices of the choir led by Jonathan Russell, Josiah Johnson and violinist/vocalist Charity Rose Thielen. Though you can hear all this on the debut record, the iTunes Session, perhaps due to its better mastering, only makes it more clear that The Head and The Heart has something in them that its listeners will want to hear again and again.
The only unreleased song given here is “When I Fall Asleep” – a tune that falls in line so well with the rest of their catalog that you may think you’ve heard it before. It has exuberance through story telling and harmony, and Paul McCartney himself could have written the bass line. The opening track “Lost in my Mind” starts off like a theme song to a ’90s teen angst sitcom, but at some point drops into an anthem of youthful dreaming. And so the eight-song release continues. With its heavy base in piano rock it’s hard not to compare most of the songs to a slightly less spastic Ben Folds, or a softer-souled Dr. Dog.
Though there are minor differences between the takes on the iTunes Session and the original album, they are minor – a slightly different drum beat to open “Cats and Dogs” and a couple of extra piano notes in “Ghosts”. It might be the difference of how they play the song on stage versus how they decided to cut in the studio, or maybe the inspiration hit them suddenly while recording this time around. It doesn’t show much for their ability to improvise, but it proves a great deal for their consistency. If nothing else, the iTunes Session makes it known that a concert would be just as pleasing if not more so as their album – a fact that should not be overlooked when considering talent and their ability to last.