When Idle Time first wafted across the office space, I had The Happy Curmudgeons pegged as folk rock wranglers of the old school. They threaded a path through the likes of CSN, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead and other such roots rockers, absorbed that same blend of a simplicity of intent and deftness of delivery and reinterpreted it for a whole new audience. Of course the great thing about having a whole album of their music to wander through is that you get a fuller picture of what the band is all about. And whilst I stand by my initial thoughts based on the initial single, a full set of songs shows a band that explores many diverse genres and interesting music fusions.
The title track, for example, takes a turn down a fairly gentle, yet highly commercial folk-pop byway, delivering the sort of song that, especially with the boy-girl mixed and matched harmonies, is quite reminiscent of The Beautiful South. At the other end of the sonic palette, Burn Sugar Burn muscles and boogies its way along in that sort of hippy heartland rock way that I was describing in the intro, a great blend of exquisite bluesy guitar and country-rock energy. And then you have pure roots songs like 3rd Coast, part ragged folk, part cosmic country, the old American sonic lore as revisited by the 70’s revivalists being kept alive as the wheel turns once more.
Soulsville, as the name suggests, throws a hot and sassy slice of R&B into the mix, all blues grooves and dark soulfulness and Seasons is the perfect, spacious ballad, high end bass lines wandering through gorgeous acoustic picking and chiming pianos. Butterfly by stark contrast is the band at their most rock and roll all brooding, low-slung guitars and serious intent.
In a way this album reminds me of early Heart. Bear with me. Before they went on to become air-brushed, 80’s MTV stars and cliche rock bar fodder, their earlier albums were a heady mix of straight down the line rock and roll and dexterous folk loveliness, the band as often found wielding acoustic mandolins as they were electric Gibsons. And though maybe not sonically a perfect comparison, The Happy Curmudgeons have the same attitude to musical gene-splicing and genre hopping.
It’s a great approach, it’s healthy, it means that truly new music, rather than being template following nostalgia, is the order of the day and it means that albums become a wonderful dynamic ride through complimentary styles and musical stances. I just pray that I don’t catch the band dressed in leather, “throwing shapes” in a cloud of dry ice next time I turn the TV on. It’s okay, I trust them.