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James Moors and Kort McCumber have become well known names around the area for their songwriting over the years. The two met at a folk festival in 2005 and this latest album titled “Pandemonium” marks their fourth release together. Their sound hinges on folk, pop and roots music with a little bit of rock here and there. It is true that there is a good amount of singer-songwriter material out there, but the question arrises, is the work something that might be good for friends, family and the occasional person who wishes to buy a CD at a show or is it a genuinely solid and innovative attempt at making a quality album? Considering the experience and talents Moor and McCumber possess, it’s not much of a surprise that they did a “folky pop” singer-songwriter album right with this new release.
The first song, “Crack a Smile,” starts with just Moors and an acoustic guitar and the track is overall one of the more typical songs for a folk-pop/country album. What pulls the song together is the well placed mix of instruments on top Moors and McCumber’s vocal harmonies. McCumber is a multi-instrumentalist and on this track he adds a nice piano part as well as harmonica that brings in some depth to the song. Every track on the album has something a little different between the feel of the songs themselves and the instruments used. This keeps the album interesting and moving along well.
“Crack a Smile” was alright, but I was left hoping for something a little more and I wasn’t let down. Things get a little more interesting with the next track, “You Take Me Somewhere.” It starts out feeling like the usual roots/country song with an uptempo swing to it. The things that take the song further include multi-harmony vocals including Moors and McCumber along with Jim Gilmour, Ray Smith and Cari Minor. The layers of vocals gradually build as the song moves along until the mix of several vocals each singing parts of the choruses makes a more simple song into something pretty fun to listen to. Even with the neat layers of vocals, the song could have started to feel like it was “going nowhere.” It’s really when the fiddle kicks in for a “solo” close to the two minute mark is when the song shows that it is well developed. The breakdown right after between the acoustic guitar, mandolin and fiddle puts the cap on what starts initially like a regular roots song and then brings in a touch of something different and more original.
The track, “No Way to Live,” is similar in that it seems like it’s going to be a standard verse/chorus song, and it indeed has that aspect in some ways, but it rises above that. The bridge with “somedays you feel the struggle/somedays you don’t feel at all.” Brings the song somewhere outside just fitting into something too familiar. The piano underlies most of the song and it’s great, but the electric guitar and cello parts really make it shine. There was a good but interesting call with the break part with, “All the angry voices/filling up the air,” and an eerie wave of string noise drives such a little part of the song home.
While I’ve mentioned that a good amount of this album does ride on an excellent arrangement of a number of instruments on top of proficient musicianship, tracks like “Take Me Away” just feature McCumber on cello and Moors on the mandolin. This is one of the more stripped down songs on the album, but the somewhat classical feel of the cello and once again, the vocal harmonies between the two, gives the song a certain amount of intensity. A similar track on the album is “Best of Intentions” with McCumber on the piano and Moors on the tenor ukulele. There’s a calm and sincere aspect to the song and it goes to show that they know how to create the right feel by being minimal sometimes over having a half dozen or so instruments in the mix. “Tell me that not a moment has passed us by/tell me the truth/is this good bye,” goes the final line of “Intentions.” The album deals a lot with personal struggles that arise in life and getting through them. The final track is no exception with this.
This album does largely have a folk/country feel, but the last track “Pandemonium” sets itself apart from the rest of the album. It still has a gleam of folk and country in it, but they went with an experimental twist. The track is much more airy than anything else on the album and it brings in instruments like the Hammond B3, lap steel, Wurlitzer and even a glockenspiel. The core of the song is still Moors lightly strumming on an acoustic guitar, but there was a good amount of thought put into the production on this track. Lyrically, the album leans towards not being so happy. This final track finishes off with a weary and life worn feel. The chorus/refrain of “Pandemonium,” is somewhat woeful. The final verse goes, “won’t you please turn off the light/I haven’t had a moment’s rest/I never have time to think/should I have another drink to quell this?” There is also a different part where there is a spoken word sample that pans back and forth in headphones. “I walked with the monk on his way to the monastery/The soul sometimes leaves the body/We do the same work I told him...” goes part of the kind of trippy interaction between a man and a monk.
Making a folk/roots album that seems fresh is getting tougher and tougher, but there’s enough going on where Moors and McCumber pulled it off well. Switching things up from song to song went a long with the flow of the album. There’s some upbeat moments and some more somber ones, but tied together, it creates some diversity. The main driving factor of the album is the song arrangements with the vocal work and instruments. Other main members who played on the album include: Gary Louris (electric guitar/vocals), Peter Anderson (drums) and Craig Akin (bass).
The next thing that made this album so solid is the recording and production. The recording took place at several locations but the primary studio was at Flowers Studio in Minneapolis with Ed Ackerson from the alternative rock group, BNLX. “I really enjoy working with James, this is the second album I’ve done with him and I think it’s got some of his best tunes ever on it,” stated Ackerson. Mastering was done by Bruce Templeton at Magneto Mastering in Minneapolis.
There will be an official release of “Pandemonium” at Beaner’s Central March 1 at 7 p.m. There will be a $10 cover.