Calling Albany is a great sounding record; its warm and pleasant guitars, keyboards, pedal steel and percussion sit in an intimate but artfully produced sound environment, and the music is expertly performed. Perhaps it's because of the delicate beauty of the music that it's a bit of a let down that the lyrics and vocal performances too often don't warrant the lush and intricate backdrops. Case in point: the two name-drop songs, "Arrest Harrison Ford" and "The Ballad of Larry Bird". "Arrest . . ." is quite beautiful, but the weird name-dropping spoils the mood entirely, whereas "The Ballad" is an all-around affair of un-clever power pop cuteness. Vermont runs into trouble with musical references as well, as in "Hello Goodbye Sex", where they quote the first line from McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road" to unpleasant effect. But the greatest misstep may be the "Once, twice, three times a lady" lift on prominent display in the double-referencing, abstrusely titled "Commodores 64", which, at 1:30, exists only for the odd and incomplete reference.
Thankfully, the tone of the record is split between this light fare and a more effective darker side. The troubled folk confessional of "The Bells of St. Alcohol" and the raspy-throated roots trudge of "Chlorine Chlorine" both feature a somewhat tired and plainly delivered vocal over some nice pared-down instrumentation. "Screw-on Shoes" is so beautifully recorded and orchestrated that it pings and chimes like the workings of an extraordinary clock, and "The World Doesn't Ask You" is a nice stop-start rocker that seems, of all the record's songs, to be the most closely related to the music that Pele plays, right down to the left-field instrumental tag at the end.
On the whole, the record features very nice, understated playing by all, but the guitars and pedal steel deserve special mention for the varieties of tone and the subtle counter-melodies. However, the sound that the band adopts has been so exhaustively explored by others, ranging from the similarly toned but more rewarding efforts of The Kingsbury Manx, to Radiohead and their imitators, that Calling Albany ultimately seems to come up short by comparison.