Sunday, April 22, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1130: The Mastersons

I had a little time yesterday between the end of my Ultimate game and a night out with friends and so I lay down on the couch, cuddled with the cat and listened to this next album.

Disc 1130 is… Transient Lullaby
Artist: The Mastersons

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? Chris and Eleanor take an early morning stroll in a field. She looks pensive and mysterious. He just looks like a guy harrumphing about something.

How I Came To Know It: I first heard the Mastersons when they opened for a Steve Earle show a few years ago. In this case I was just buying their latest release.

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Mastersons albums, which is all of them so far. Of those three, “Transient Lullaby” comes in last. Someone has to be last.

Ratings: 2 stars

It’s not you, Mastersons, it’s me.

“Transient Lullaby” is a competent and capable record from alt-country husband and wife team Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore. There is plenty to like about this record, including the tight harmonies of the two leads, some pretty playing and a genuine effort to take their sound to the next level. Despite this, it felt like something was missing and I struggled to find an emotional connection.

Instead after the first few songs I found myself fidgeting and looking at my watch. There was nothing wrong, but I needed something more. The vocal performances were strong, and Chris Masterson who has never sounded better. I sometimes feel like Eleanor does the heavy lifting, but on “Transient Lullaby” Chris holds his own and then some.

On “Highway 1” his vocal style reminded me of Jimmy Rankin. This made me want to go put some of Jimmy’s albums on, increasing my restlessness. “You Could Be Wrong” has a pleasant, slightly indulgent meandering guitar and string section akin to something Greg Keelor might do on a Blue Rodeo album. It reminded me that it had been a while since I’d put any Blue Rodeo on. On the old timey “This Isn’t How It Was Supposed to Go” I daydreamed about listening to Dori Freeman. On the mournful minor chord-laden “Perfect” I yearned for Aimee Mann.

This demonstrates the considerable musical range on “Transient Lullaby.” The Mastersons refuse to be put in a box and labeled “country” or “folk” and that is admirable. They pull from multiple genres fearlessly and – for the most part – successfully. “Don’t Tell Me To Smile” is pretty much a pop song, and a good one at that. A few changes to the arrangement and you could throw it on the radio and have a hit. I expect that would mean taking out that playful violin flourish, which would be a damn shame.

Part of the challenge was the odd and slightly dissonant way a lot of the songs resolved melodically. With so many songs about disconnection this is likely deliberate, and I give full credit for innovation and creativity even if sometimes it left me feeling, well, disconnected.

But the real issue was that I kept waiting for that special song to latch onto and it never came. As Chris sings on one of the album’s standouts, “Highway 1”:

“We don’t breathe the same air
And we don’t sing the same song.”

That sums it up. This is a good record but it didn't inspire me the way I wanted. This was a relationship that left me dwelling on the ghosts of girlfriends past. The best I can do now is to introduce “Transient Lullaby” to someone who is going to love it the way it deserves, and let it go.

Best tracks: Highway 1, Don’t Tell Me to Smile

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