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Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Roman Candle — Oh Tall Tree in the Ear

After weathering much turmoil on the business end and finally releasing the long-awaited The Wee Hours Revue to excellent critical reviews, Chapel Hill’s Roman Candle find the muse for their next release amidst the relationship between feelings and experience, and in the process create an album that can only be described as an instant classic. Drawing its title from a passage in German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, Oh Tall Tree in the Ear resonates from a place deep within the chronicles of songwriting lore and transplants the listener directly into the real and imagined experiences of the band’s core trio of Skip, Timshel and Logan Matheny. The fertile detail of every lyric unfolds like a pop-up storybook, full of compelling characters and vibrant scenic imagery. In “One More Road” the band explores ideas and feelings that compel them to search for an even richer experience through Skip’s vigorously sunny vocals and Timshel’s radiant Fender Rhodes backdrop. In “Why Modern Radio Is A-OK,” Skip explores the notion that the pedestrian qualities of Top 40 radio are perfectly alright, since they fail at extracting the often painful emotions associated with some of the best songwriting (Don’t play Neil Young, don’t play Van Morrison/Just let some high school emo band start versin’ and chorusin’). There’s a story within each song, but there’s a story behind some as well. The inspiration behind the lingering melody of “I Was A Fool” came from sitting behind a piano at Sunset studios, the same used during the recording of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street. Like the ghosts of those great works, there’s a profound devotion to heartfelt artistry found throughout Oh Tall Tree in the Ear which fosters to deeper connection with every listen.

Jimmy Herring — Lifeboat

Longtime sideman Jimmy Herring () has always seemed perfectly content to stand unceremoniously in the background of whatever phenomenal band for which he’s manned lead guitar. Whether it’s been the Allman Brothers Band, the Dead or his current role in Widespread Panic, he’s always been heavily relied upon for his awe-inspiring chops and sweeping versatility. While heavy improvisation is a central theme to nearly every major act where he’s been a participant, it could be argued that such “song-oriented” work is still restrictive of his true abilities. With his debut solo album, Lifeboat, he finally has the chance to set his sights on thematically broader material. It’s without question that Herring has played an integral role within the jam community over the past two decades, but there’s nothing jammy about this one at all; it’s a distinctly Southernflavored jazz effort. During that span, he’s befriended numerous equally prodigious musicians and plenty of them show up to lend a hand. In classic Herring fashion, however, he’s quick to relinquish the forefront to the likes of Derek Trucks, Bobby Lee Rodgers and Ike Stubblefield, and their contributions are evident. The heavy blues-fusion phrases found on the opening track “Scapegoat Blues” gives the album somewhat of a false start, but Kofi Burbridge’s “Only When It’s Light” quickly establishes the album’s identity. Trucks’ imitable presence is the hallmark on “New Moon” and “Lifeboat Serenade,” as the interaction between his slide and Herring’s sweep picking is one of the finest moments on the album. True to his playful nature, Herring throws a sharp curve with his take on Disney’s “Jungle Book Overture,” a piece dominated by the sinuous winds of saxophonist Greg Osby. Herring may very well retreat to his usual supporting role now that there is a magnum opus attached to his own name, but at least no one will be left wondering, “What if?”

91/100 83/100 For a chance to have your band’s CD reviewed, mail it to: YES! Weekly, 5500 Adams Farm Lane, Suite 204, Greensboro, NC 27407. ATTN: Ryan Snyder.

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