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Eli Young Band Shows Potential

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 6, 2008

Upon first listen, Eli Young Band’s “Jet Black and Jealous” mostly fades away into the background. A few phrases and chords will jump out of the solid country-rock sound, but a true appreciation of Eli Young Band takes paying attention. Details are the heart of their music. And with those details, you’ll be hooked and singing along.  “Jet Black and Jealous” is the band’s first studio release, preceded only by their independent release “Level.” In the vein of superstars like Rascal Flats and Carrie Underwood, the album captures the new trend in country music that lends itself to a more pop oriented sound. Eli Young Band is rock with a cowboy hat. There are the usual references to cars, bonfires and the girls that left them, but these clichés are supported by electric guitars, a little bit grittier sound, and a less straightforward approach to the lyrics.  The album opens with the band’s strongest song, “When it Rains.” Set to a good swing, coming from its electric guitar and vocals, the song delivers its melancholy message of, “I don’t mind being lonely/I will cry right along with the sky,” beautifully.  “When it Rains” may be the standout song of the album; it has the most potential to fill the role of body moving radio song. As an appropriate choice for lead track, it will stick in people’s heads and lead them to the rest of “Jet Black and Jealous.” Any fan of the Wallflowers will feel a sense of deja vu when “Always the Love Songs” begins playing, as it opens with the introduction to the rock band’s “6th Avenue Heartache.” The ballad epitomizes Eli Young Band’s mix of country and rock. It is a story of a bunch of friends getting away from “the city lights” around a bonfire, listening to an eclectic mix of country, rock and folk with, “‘Ramblin’ Man,’ ‘Proud Mary,’ and ‘American Band.'”  “Throw and Go” roughens up the band’s sound and speed, making it a good song for tapping on the steering wheel to as you drive down the road. “How Should I Know” plays with restraint, holding back on the song’s energy and building up in the refrain. The lyrics to “Home” keep the listener on their toes. The phrase “…home is where you are,” sounds like a generic country appeal to a girl, but the rest of the lyrics reveal that the singer really is appealing to home and all the people and memories there.  Too many of the tracks feel like they sacrifice uniqueness for appeal, resulting in a few songs that hover just above the lowest common denominator. “Famous” is a little unexciting, and sounds familiar, like you’ve it somewhere before and can’t put your finger on it. “Guinevere” leaps out musically and there are occasional interesting lyrics, but it needs more of an edge. The rest of the album falls away similarly – good, but not great.  “Jet Black and Jealous” will be just good enough to prove Eli Young Band commercially and lead them to a second album. It is here we might see something really remarkable, when they are less constrained. But “Jet Black and Jealous” certainly deserves a spot on your iPod in its own right.