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Monday January 24th

String-plucking 'Way' models inconsistency

It's been said that people can mellow with age, and the same can be true for bands -- especially in the case of Acoustic Syndicate.

On its latest release, Long Way Round, the band stumbles, slumping from its last effort, the bubbly and bouncy Terra Firma.

Acoustic Syndicate's albums have a penchant for blending introspective lyrics with more narrative fare. The band's newest product continues the trend, but its lyrics are weaker than those on Terra Firma.

The title track starts off strong, its plucky banjo chords and humming ushering in a swirly jam of percussion and guitar. Twangy vocals from Steve McMurry fuse with undulating instruments, offering the familiar and quintessential Acoustic Syndicate style.

Even the lazy, bluesy lyrics evoke the band's persona: "I got up this morning/Took the long way round/Not too much upon my mind/Trying to slow it down."

But after "Long Way Round," the album seems to follow its title, lacking a consistent punch but spottily exhibiting skill on certain songs.

The second track, "Talk," fails to live up to the title song. It begins with a more driving and syncopated beat before segueing into a Marvin Gaye-lite criticism of society, then delving into a repetitive and annoying chorus: "Talk to your father/Talk to your mother."

The album remains in the territory of copycats with the narrative jam "The Blue Bird Train." The band evokes Marc Cohn (think "Walking in Memphis") with the plodding and pointless song.

The album finally starts to redeem itself in classic Acoustic Syndicate style with "They Come This Way."

The song, offering up a hyper banjo and catchier lyrics, is a welcome break from the album's monotony. The upbeat intrumentals contrast the song's lamenting lyrics: "We don't miss them till they're gone/Gone, then it's too late/But we can do better/We can love them while they're here."

The song evokes the band's live show, as band members managed to do on Terra Firma, by highlighting a penchant for bluegrass. Moving seamlessly between the band's lilting harmonies and its driving underbeat, the track is a high point midway through a stagnant album.

The next track, "Carry the World," also seems as if it would fit comfortably on the group's previous album. The song's wailing chorus, jazzy banjo and mandolin --as well as its superior lyrics -- seem ill-placed on an album the average listener could have tuned out after the first track.

But luckily for Acoustic Syndicate, the band has a pretty large local following, and fans won't tune out or hesitate to purchase the album or tickets for the next show.

While Long Way Round lacks the tenacity of the group's previous album, it still showcases the band's musicianship -- albeit briefly.

Contact the A&E Editor at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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