'Call it what you want: alt-country, Americana, indie-folk. It is a genre built upon a certain set of traditions, both sonic and lyrical. From the Band to Wilco to Whiskeytown, it's musicians are more interested in exploring these traditions than being avant-garde; thus, success depends almost entirely upon ones ability to write quality songs and perform them earnestly. Luke Kalloch's latest release Carolane Acres, finds the 23 year old singer/songwriter exploring these traditions across an excellent set of songs that sound right at home alongside any works of the 1990's alt-country movement. Kalloch has the Americana formula down to a T - straightforward yet poignant lyrics, morose melodies, equal parts acoustic guitars and twangy overdriven electrics, flourishes of piano and mandolin, and performances given the kind of slightly reverbed production that gives the illusion that the listener is in the same small room as the performer. Lyrically, this set of songs is all about storytelling; whether it's telling the performer's personal story, or creating a narrative about the people in the world the performer inhabits. On the one hand, there are the deeply personal narratives of songs like "Elizabeth Come Home," where Kalloch details all the heartache, paranoia, and sleepless nights that accompany the end of a romantic relationship. Elsewhere, Kalloch sings with equal conviction about the world around him, from the orphan boys and street corner prostitutes of "This Town" to the old fisherman of "Sailors." Kalloch also has a few lyrical tricks up his sleeves. There is, for example, the hushed brushed-snare ballad "I Don't Want to Leave Your Sight," about trying to catch the eye of a lover. Kalloch deftly avoids slipping into cliché here by taking a phrase that is itself a cliché ("I don't want to let you out of my sight") and turning it on it's head to create the song's chorus of "I don't want to leave your sight." It's an unexpected reversal that adds an additional feeling of helplessness to Kalloch's already pleading vocals. Some of Carolane Acres greatest pleasures come from Kalloch's repeated use of surprising contrasts. The EP's opening track, "The Destroyer," for example, employs a poppy Paul Westerberg/Replacements-esque electric guitar bounce and supremely catchy melodies and harmonies to present a chorus that is seriously dark: "I am the destroyer, of all your hopes and dreams and your sentimental schemes." Later, Kalloch plays with contrasting guitar textures in "Elizabeth Come Home," mixing an explosion of jangly treble guitar notes with a mini-chorus of warm, ultra-sustained six-strings. The musical style of the aforementioned "Sailors" strands in direct contrast to the lyrical content. He may be singing about sailors and sextants, but Kalloch avoids arranging the song like a sea-shanty. Instead, "Sailors" is all piano, low-key drums and acoustic guitar, and beautiful interwoven trumpet lines arranged and performed by trumpet player Dana Malseptic. While the choice to employ what is essentially a pop-jazz combo sound smack dead in the middle of an alt-country/Americana release may seem odd, Kalloch pulls it off, and it works perfectly. In the end, what is arguably the EP's most powerful song is also it's simplest. On "Rot In New England," Kalloch strips away any lyrical ambiguity, and any musical accompaniment save for a spare acoustic guitar and bass, and confesses to his fear of becoming stuck and growing old and stagnant in his hometown. Kalloch isn't pulling any punches when he sings that he doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his family members (footsteps that seem to be stuck in one place, rather than moving forward) and watch his life slip away in New England. It's a bold move to call out one's own family members in such an honest way, but it works because not only is it clear that he is singing with love and a certain kind of respect, but he is also questioning his own restlessness as much as he is criticizing anyone else. Carolane Acres ends on another high note, with a hidden track that begins several minutes after "Rot In New England." It's a song that starts off sounding a bit like one of Ryan Adams' quieter acoustic numbers, before exploding with a wall of electric guitars, trumpets, and triple tracked vocals. It's one of those moments of unexpected contrast that brings Kalloch's songs to life.' -Andrew Trouwborst.
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