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Royal City - Little Heart's Ease

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Artist: Royal City

Album: Little Heart's Ease

Label: Three Gut

Review date: Jul. 14, 2004

Royal City hit a critical nerve with 2001's Alone at the Microphone, a fairly dark album that mixed bluegrass/country songs, lo-fi Drag City-style folk, and sunny pop into a distracting patchwork. Little Heart's Ease, their new album, is a more solid outing, focusing on the pop sensibilities of Microphone's more upbeat numbers, without the at-times annoying candy-coated choruses. Gone also, thankfully, is singer/songwriter Aaron Riches' lyrical obsession with bodily fluids – no more songs about blood, feces, or semen. The only real misstep on this album is the Parsons-era Byrds influenced "Ain't that the Way," which seems more hokey than authentic.

Otherwise, Little Heart's Ease is half-full of shimmering pop numbers like "She Will Come," easily the most dynamic song Royal City has recorded so far, with a hand-clap breakdown and a chorus of singers that calls to mind fellow Canadians the Hidden Cameras.

The second half of the record is dominated by slower numbers that recall The Band in their instrumentation and structure, but manage to avoid "Ain't that the Way’s" insincere nostalgia. "My Body is Numbered" and "O Beauty" are both terrific ballads that are as much pop as country.

Riches' voice can still sound a bit flat on some tracks, but his vocal and lyrical abilities have grown by leaps and bounds, particularly on the beautiful "That My Head Were a Spring of Water." There is a breeziness to Little Heart's Ease that does take some getting used to. The change in mood is in such sharp contrast to their previous works that the record seems almost too polished. But the clarity of the production compliments the light mood and pop sensibility of this batch of songs, even if it does take a few listens to appreciate.

By Jon Pitt

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