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David Vandervelde - The Moonstation House Band

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Artist: David Vandervelde

Album: The Moonstation House Band

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Jul. 6, 2007

Chicago songwriter David Vandervelde 's first full-length flirts with the big, fey excesses of post-Beatles baroque pop, with bubblegum rockers and saccharine love songs, but just doesn't have the self-skewering wit to pull it off. Think of Bobby Conn without the irony or Mark Mallman singing stone cold sober. Think of the Monkees and ask yourself, is this the way you want to spend your afternoon?

The disc starts out with its best stuff, the big rollicking jangle of "Nothing No," with eastern-tuned jangle (maybe not a sitar but a guitar tuned like one) rolled up for the mystery tour, and Vandervelde's odd, high-tenor warble layering a giggly sweetness over the top. "Jacket" isn't bad either, with a sort of acoustic Mott the Hoople feel to it, a bit of drama in the offbeat guitar stabs, and four-steady beat. There's a bit of George Harrison in the trippy chorus of "Cry, Cry, Cry" and in the wild twang of the guitars, and if not exactly a great song, it's pretty enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it leads right into the two weakest songs on the disc, where Vandervelde's sappiest pop proclivities get a full, excruciating run. The first of these is an over-reverb’d ballad called "Feet of A Liar," a bit of 1970s radio slickness that might remind you of Bread without that band's redeeming melodic and lyrical tension. "Corduroy Blues" is even more awful, bringing a full orchestra to bear onto a rather slight song and crushing it entirely in the process. It makes the Beatles’ "Long and Winding Road" seem like a model of restraint and taste. You can only wince, shudder and move along.

And that turns out to be a reasonably good move, because with "Wisdom from a Tree,” Vandervelde returns to 1960s psyche-glazed pop. (The strings sound exactly like ELO, circa that "Oh...hoh...hoh...it's magic" song that I never want to hear again.) "Murder in Michigan," coming next to last, is maybe the best song on the album, a country lilt tucked into Byrd harmonies and twanging mandolin. Here the sweetness embedded in Vandervelde's voice sounds completely natural and unforced, braced by the slight melancholy of the music and words. If the album ended right there, you'd be tempted to go back to the beginning and see if maybe you'd sold it short on the basis of a couple of bad tracks. But from there, it's back to syrupy orchestration and 1970s Rhodes sentimentality, in the wordless "Moonlight Instrumental."

People who like bubblegum pop may find that the uptempo cuts here are enough to redeem the whole. But why bother? If you like super-sweet 1970s radio pop, why not stick to the real stuff, like Bread, ELO, etc. Just close the door first, OK?

By Jennifer Kelly

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