Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Parlour Suite - Rainmaker

The Parlour Suite
Rainmaker (self-released, 2008)
Grade: B

Download: The Parlour Suite - "Dark Glass Pane"

If one were listening casually to Rainmaker, the debut album from MPLS-based all-encompassing Americana trio The Parlour Suite (consisting of Joel Roberts, Inga Roberts, and Leah Nelson), they couldn't necessarily be blamed for thinking that the album consisted of two moods: jaunty and jauntier. This is because of the fact that four of the Rainmaker's first six songs heavily feature offbeat-and-upbeat piano vamps indebted to ragtime, a musical style which saw its heyday during the first Roosevelt administration (Teddy, not Franklin Delano).

Not that leaning heavily on one type of music, or one way of expressing that style, is a bad thing--songs like "Say Goodbye" and "Mountain Man Blues" certainly have their charms, even if they are a bit repetitive. The thing is, though, that once the second side of begins, with its gorgeous centerpiece "Dark Glass Pane" being one of the best songs on Rainmaker (actually, it's one of the best songs of the year), you'd wish that The Parlour Suite would have been more upfront about their ability to write songs so sadly beautiful.

Having said that, The Parlour Suite can also write a melody that's like a spring thaw in its ability to warm your spirit and bring a smile to your face. A lot of Rainmaker suggests that you're listening to an old-timey version of the New Pornographers, especially due to the fact that both groups share an infectious effervescence that's hard to contain (see "Gambling Man's Problem" as a strong example of that quality). While the way that The Parlour Suite effectively blend styles like gospel (on genteel opener "Song of the Sailors"), folk, ragtime, and blues is quite pleasing, a lot of their songs also end up bleeding into each other. By the time a song like "Navy Queen" arrives to listener's shores, you've felt like you've experienced that ship passing already.

The Parlour Suite fair much better when they re-contextualize one genre to fit within the confines of another. A sterling example of this is "European Vacation", which is another stunner and another song which will unquestionably be one of the best of the year. The piano progression which opens the song suggests that the track will be another upbeat number similar to the songs which proceeded it, but then the line fades stealthily into the background, and the focus then shifts to the Emmylou Harris-esque vocals. Simply put, this song is impeccable. Every part of the song and its performances, from the firing line drumrolls, to the swaying, dream-like piano-and-guitar lines, complements the other in an absolutely awesome fashion. Like all great songs, it has one flaw; that it ends.

Similarly, "Dark Glass Pane" is an alt-country song which can stand with the best material from Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. If your heart doesn't melt by the time the slide guitar and harmonica chime in, you may want to take your pulse to see if you still have one. The rest of the album, from there on and in general, isn't as remarkable as those highlights. But in their first try, The Parlour Suite have written three indisputably great songs and several reasonably competent ones. While one wishes that the rest of the material on Rainmaker was as good as its highlights are, The Parlour Suite have crafted an ideal soundtrack for melting snow and casual Springtime strolls.

Buy Rainmaker here.

The Parlour Suite play Friday night at Stasiu's and Saturday night at the Nomad World Pub.

The Parlour Suite MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

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Blogger JLR said...

I think the album does not do justice to the warmth and pure fun that the Parlour Suite brings to the stage. I had a wonderful evening listening to this trio last week. If you get a chance to catch the parlour suite live don't hesitate.

4:56 PM  

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