Being that I live in Seattle, I was hearing nothing but huge buzz and hype for the latest in the long lineage of Emerald City rock, the Cave Singers. Guitarist Derek Fudesco hails from the Seattle rock royalty of the Murder City Devils and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Singer Pete Quirk comes from new wave group Hint Hint, and drummer Marty Lund graduated from Cobra High. Together, they’ve ridden a wave of good fortune on the media blitz surrounding their new folk-tinged trio. Every Seattle mag seems to be in awe of them, seemingly without exception, so I wanted to see what the furor was all about, as would be revealed in their debut album, Invitation Songs.
At first listen, Invitation Songs is enjoyable enough. There’s more than just a touch of Zeppelin-esque acoustic rock within, and that’s not such a bad thing. However, the Cave Singers are being billed as the resurgence of Appalachian folk, but I just don’t hear it. Their Matador web page boasts that they never really listened to folk music before, and listening to this album, that seems evident. Lund’s drums and Quirk’s voice are far more rock-influenced than folk, and neither seem able to break out of that particular sensibility. Quirk, whose voice was masterful as the head of Hint Hint, seems like Richard Ashcroft seeking a Britpop asylum amidst a convention of hippies. Lund’s drums veer on the edge of Animal or Buddy Rich manic solos, but never quite get there. In fact, that’s what seems to be plaguing nearly every song on Invitation Songs. Tracks like “Seeds of Night” and especially “Helen” meander along in desperate need of a chorus.
The repetitive, plodding nature of “Dancing On Our Graves” became irritating incredibly quickly, again a song that could have greatly benefited from either a chorus or a bridge, as long as the song changed course somewhere! Instead, I felt tied to a runaway mine cart, like in the second Indiana Jones film. Finally, with “Cold Eye” there is some slight relief, with the song resembling something like a Neil Young Harvest-era ballad, or like a Waterboys tune, and that was far more welcoming than anything heard in the first third of the album. The same is true for the sweetly rolling “Elephant Clouds.” “New Monuments” has Quirk sounding a bit like another member of Seattle rock royalty, one Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, and perhaps even a bit like Brett Anderson of Suede. The closing instrumentation of “Called” sounds an awful lot like Depeche Mode’s “Blasphemous Rumours.”
However, the overall feel of Invitation Songs, with a few exceptions, such as the harmonica-fueled “Oh Christine,” is that this is a record with a bunch of songs that drive toward the brink of explosive instrumentals, catchy choruses and electrifying bridges and never quite seem to get there. I suppose that could be the point. These could easily act as `songs for the journey’ where the landscape never really changes and the only thing that interrupts the constancy of the road and the desolate landscape is your own imagination. While that might save this album in my estimation, for most it apparently didn’t need saving.
The truth is, the debut from the Cave Singers is far less like Iron & Wine and far more like Kenny Loggins, though Kenny has more hooks and more memorable choruses. I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with that, but the vast majority of listeners out there seem to be more influenced by the media frenzy surrounding this band than the actual music they create. There are certainly no shortage of touchstones with which to compare the Cave Singers’ debut album, but, ultimately, Invitation Songs seems to be a classic soft rock album with nothing much to hold onto. Let the hate mail begin…
Kenny Loggins- Celebrate Me Home
Lindsey Buckingham- Law and Order
James Taylor- One Man Dog