With their self-titled debut, the Los Angeles-based trio that calls itself Fairground Saints not only create an instant impact, but also convey the impression they’ve been floating around the ether forever. That is, of course, a mark of their savvy and confidence, but it also speaks to lessons well learned and the fact they’ve absorbed their influences well. Suffice it to say it’s rare to find a band that comes out of the womb and offers such an immediate embrace. Yet with this initial outing Fairground Saints provides such a remarkably accessible sound that it’s easy to imagine, even at this stage of the game, that they are in it for the long haul. In fact, it sounds as if they’re already halfway up the summit.
The familiarity factor weighs heavily here, from the sweeping Linda Rondstadt influenced opener “Ain’t Much for Lyin’” through to the pop proficiency of “Can’t Control the Weather”, which sounds for all the world like Loggins and Messina in full jubilation mode. Songwriting credits are divvied out amongst all the key players, with the core duo Mason Van Valin and Elijah Edwards sharing the spotlight with fellow vocalist Megan McAllister. Standout song “Church” is an excellent example of their skill, a track that allows the three principals to mix things up in a fully soulful celebration. On the other hand, “Still” takes an opposite tack, its rich harmonies conveying a wistful, homespun sound that’s flush with a calming back porch mindset. With “Gossip Land”, the song that follows, that sense of serenity is sustained to the point of full relaxing repose. “Until Then” starts out the same, but quickly turns into a robust, revelatory outpour. Alabama Shakes have nothing on this bunch once they reach full frenzy.
Consequently, half way through the album, it’s immediate apparent the listener’s in good hands. The only surprise is simply how calming and reassuring the album remains. Credit veteran producer Matthew Wilder with emphasizing the hooks, especially in songs like “Sunday Lover” which finds the source of its strength in vibrant brass and a rollicking rhythm section. Wilder clearly has a knack for crafting infectious arrangements that not only brace the material but also lift it to new heights. The instrumental dexterity is nothing short of remarkable, from the shimmering folk-fuelled sound of “Turn This Car around” to the spunky pacing of “Somethin’ From Nothin’.” Naturally, it’s the clear chemistry of those involved that has much to do with this easy, breezy approach, but also having Wilder behind the boards helps channel their efforts with effortless efficiency.
It’s ironic that the final song of the set is one entitled “I Wish I Was”. “I’m noting special,” they reflect, making one want to scratch his or her head in amazement of their insecurity. It’s the one false note the album betrays, simply because it’s so misguided. The truth is, if they were hoping for a masterpiece the very first time out, they’ve succeeded beyond expectation. Clearly, the Fairground Saints need wish no more.