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The Head and the Heart’s fresh folk rock

Gabriela Leskur | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I’m here to set the record straight about The Head and the Heart’s new album, “Let’s Be Still.” When I saw that Rolling Stone had given Miley Cyrus’ new album “Bangerz” a higher rating than “Let’s Be Still,” I figured that the public deserved a better assessment.

A band of nomads, band members traveling from Virginia and California, The Head and The Heart was brought together by luck and perhaps divine providence. In producing their second album, the band finally had the opportunity to make music together in a traditional studio environment-with varying results. 

For the most part, the album is spot on, delivering a solid array of new songs while staying true to their musical roots. “Let’s Be Still” will quench old fans’ thirst for the band’s fresh folk rock feel while securing new fans with an expansion of the band’s identity as portrayed on their first album. 

“Let’s Be Still” takes on a mellower feel than the debut album. Originally I felt that many of the songs seemed to hover close to a breakthrough moment, but failed to surpass the threshold into true greatness. I will admit that, at first, I was disappointed. I found myself in search of a riff or vocal surprise that never came. But as I listened again to the album, I found that when I put aside my expectations, I was ultimately satisfied. Old fans just have to go into the album with full knowledge that “Let’s Be Still” does not utilize the exact same formula for song-making as the first album: “Let’s Be Still” is truly an expansion and evolution of the band.

While the album doesn’t offer many true thrills, except perhaps in the popular hit “Shake,” most songs achieve head-bopping status with a fine mix of instrumental solos, impressive vocal talent, and thought-provoking lyrics.

Echoing the energetic spirit of their first album, “My Friends” utilizes the stand-by format of a cheery piano accompanying fantastic harmonies, akin to the song “Ghosts” on their first album. This lively tune may cause one to dance around their room in an inspired bout of procrastination, which is always welcomed and appreciated.

“Another Story” starts out with a piano ditty that calls up an image of a joyful little kid walking home from school, staring intently downwards so as not to step on the sidewalk cracks. Then the song welcomes in light guitar, bass, and a sassy little shaker. The mood brightens even more as all the instruments mix perfectly with the chorus-like sound. As the song comes into it’s own, the drums slowly add emotion to the soulful lyrics until the moment where a lone voice is heard-bringing out the vulnerability prevalent in the lyrics, “I see a world, a world turning in on itself. Are we just like hungry wolves howling in the night?”

New in this album are songs that feature only the vocal talent of Charity Rose Thielen, who usually sticks to playing the violin, adding to harmonies, and performing short breakthrough solos within larger songs. “Springtime” and “Summertime” put Thielen in the spotlight and the attention isn’t always great. In songs like “Rivers and Roads” from their first album, Charity’s solos are perfection and honestly make the songs. But part of Thielen’s charm is her ability to contrast with the male voices in the group, especially lead vocalists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell. Without the foil of Johnson and Russell in songs like “Summertime,” the eerily angelic-yet-rough voice of Thielen becomes all too mortal.

The band’s lyrics maintain underlying continuity throughout the album. From the sadly orchestrated message of hope in “Josh McBride” to the heart breaking longing for emotion in “Fire/Fear” to the honest reflection on leaving family for success in “10,000 Weight in Gold,” this new album possesses a diverse array of emotional masterpieces.

While the second album isn’t what I expected, it’s hard to deny that The Head and The Heart have made musical magic yet again. And yes, Rolling Stone, “Let’s Be Still” trumps Miley Cyrus’s “Bangerz.”