By Jack Tuthill
Seattle-based indie-folk band, The Head and the Heart, have had very little time to take a breath following the release of their 2011 smash-hit, self-titled debut album.
They were instantly labeled “Seattle’s best new band” and have toured seemingly nonstop since 2009.
The six close-knit musicians finally had a chance to gather themselves this spring and record “Let’s Be Still,” their highly anticipated sophomore album, which was released on Oct. 15.
The album cover fittingly portrays two band members laying in a field of grass and gazing into clear blues skies. The Head and the Heart relished the opportunity to sit back, relax and be still during the recording process.
The band’s first album is indie-folk gold and often regarded as one of the better folk albums since the turn of the century. The band could have played it safe and stuck to the same formula, but this record proves their creative abilities as a collective unit.
“Let’s Be Still” is effectively diverse. The band that brought indie fans “Down in the Valley,” “Rivers and Roads” and “Heaven Go Easy on Me” has aged gracefully. Musical experimentation has produced a new sound, which should appeal to fans and first time listeners alike.
Backup vocalist and violinist Charity Rose Thielen takes the lead in three of the 13 tracks on the album, her first opportunity at lead-singer. Her vocals have a classic, mid-19th century quality.
“These Days Are Numbered” is her best track on the album and reminiscent of 70s folk. The piercing harmonica in the song’s breakdown will please Bob Dylan fans.
Lead-singer Jonathan Russell’s voice is soothingly raspy throughout. His vocals can be
enjoyed on the best two tracks on the album: “Another Story” and “Shake.”
“Another Story” is gorgeous and heartbreaking. The song was written following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Russell pours his heart into the lyrics, “Every time I hear another story, oh the poor boy lost his head. Can we go on, like it once was?”
“Shake,” on the other hand, is upbeat and uplifting. It is also among their best work to date. Heavy drums and catchy piano keystrokes brilliantly segue to Russell’s dominating vocals. A hair-raising breakdown finalizes the track in tremendous fashion.
Group-founder, guitarist and vocalist Josiah Johnson’s best song on the album is “Josh McBride.” This is a comforting, slow-burning, acoustic track with great instrumentals and reassuring backup vocals from Thielen. The bizarre song was written by Johnson’s girlfriend, “You are in my dreams at night, you are in grandmother’s wisdom, and you are in grandfather’s charm.”
“10,000 Weight in Gold” is characteristic of the bands’ early work: simple, elegant and well-written. The track starts slow, then builds and finishes stunningly. Russell desperately cries out for relief at the songs conclusion, “I was burned out and lost. There’s no light in here now.”
The fastest song on the album is “My Friends.” It is a piano-heavy track with witty lyrics, “If everyone had rights, would anything go wrong? Would there ever be the need for these politician songs?” The lyrics are quite fitting in the wake of the recent government shutdown.
The Head and the Heart took a risk attempting a pop song with “Summertime” and a country tune in “Cruel,” but the tracks do show outstanding range and creativity. Music continually changes and their sound is merely transforming with the times.
Not every track works to perfection on “Let’s Be Still,” but collectively the album is a well-oiled machine. It is catchy, beautiful and impossible to turn off. I have willingly surrendered multiple hours to the album.
The record fittingly concludes with “Gone;” the bands’ longest song ever created at over six minutes. Russell loudly chants, “Gone are the days.” So are the gratifying hours devoted listening to “Let’s Be Still,” one of the year’s very best albums.