Constellation Prize is Carbon Leaf’s contribution to the growing genre of Southern folk rock. The band uses lap steel guitars and an upright bass to create a Johnny Cash-style country sound, while adding electric mandolins and guitars, giving it a modern twist. With instruments ranging from fiddles to bagpipes, Carbon Leaf has the sound of an Avett Brothers-Flogging Molly hybrid. This interesting dynamic helps to distinguish the band from its folksy contemporaries.
Although the tracks on the first half of the album can run together, the album undergoes a major instrumental shift in the last four songs. While songs like “Circus” and “Ragtime Carnival” employ more rock sounds, such as electric guitars with powerful drums, “Pierce My Heart” and “Tombstone vs. Ashes” go deeper into folk instrumentation. Sliding guitar chords with relaxed backbeats are more prevalent on the album’s latter half. These tempo changes strengthen the overall quality of the album by showing that the band is capable of shuffling between different styles of music.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most music of this genre, almost all of the songs deal with the same topic: love or love lost. And while the song writing isn’t at fault, the songs’ substance is so overdone that the album becomes repetitive.
“Is this where, where I belong?” asks lead singer Barry Privett on “Circus,” the album’s opening track. The answer to that is yes. Despite the lack of lyrical originality, the variety of instrumentation and styles on Constellation Prize allow Carbon Leaf to hit its stride as a versatile folk rock band.