Angus & Julia Stone - Down The Way
It's safe to say that in the vast majority of cases an artist's sophomore album fails to meet the expectations created by the debut. Down the Way, the forthcoming second album from Australian brother and sister tandem Angus & Julia Stone, turns that thinking on its head.
While it was generally well received by critics, I was underwhelmed by the pair's debut record. I found the songs to be far too similar in sound and the vibe to be listless, soulless, and bland. What a difference a year makes though.
The Stones sound on Down the Way (out March 30th) is still rooted in a ghost folk foundation, but they've added so much more to it. More attention has been given to melody and the overall arrangements are far less bashful, with much more meat on their bones. As a result we get songs like "Black Crow", easily the catchiest song in their catalogue.
More prominent banjos and harmonica add to the organic feel of the album, but it's the guitar work that more often than not breathes new life into the pair. From the Neil Young-inspired "Yellow Brick Road" to the plucky "On the Road" these songs call out for repeated playings (the one exception being the catatonic "Santa Monica Dream").
In the vocals the Stones have managed to retain the best aspects and have built upon them. The harmonies are still strong are in fact dare to be gorgeous more often. Julia has managed to keep an innocence in her sound while minimizing the painful cutesiness that marred much of the debut. More importantly though, there is a new found soulfulness to the vocals. It's an Angus-sung tune, "Draw Your Swords", on which they shine the most. Angus sings with a throat-ripping blues scream that would make Greg Dulli envious.
In the end the listener isn't even disappointed that the album closer "The Devil's Tears" isn't a Helium cover. Angus & Julia cap off the album with a lush track on which all the strong elements converge at once.
Down the Way proves that there doesn't need to be a sophomore jinx.
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