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The Brands
Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies (CD)


The Shmat got this record by The Brands in the other day. Featuring the long-locked troubadour Mark Mandeville, Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies is not as adventuresome or wacky as Nobody's Favorite Records' other release by Jerry Fels but features a similar vocal style throughout much of the album. Once again, Shmat imagines that there will be two camps of people: one that can not get past the nature of Mark's strident and somewhat wavery voice, and the other that appreciates his coffee house ruminations for what they are - good, competent folk songs. For the Shmat, the danger of falling into the first camp never really materialized, although he thinks that on certain songs the vocals could be toned down just a bit. He suspects, however, that the high emotional and angsty tone on many of The Brands' songs would translate pretty swimmingly in a live set where performer and audience can share that immediate rapport. Speaking of performance angst, how many of you have seen Shannon Wright perform live? Unreal, and an entirely different experience than just listening to her albums on the stereo. Well, Mr. Mandeville never screams on his CD but you never know... the Shmat doesn't think he would sit completely still either in performance.

The songs... the self titled first track as well as "Mr. Pony Man" are pretty straightforward tunes. The Shmat liked the bongos or congas or whatever percussion that was being used here. Much like the Fels release, Gordon Gano and maybe a bit of Ben Lee seem to be lurking in the background. The Shmat thought "Emos Kitten" might have broken the speed record for acoustic guitar strumming. "Monster" is a sweet albeit angry acoustic picked ballad and "Tonight I Sing" is livened up considerably by the addition of handclaps halfway through the song. "Sheri's Song"s rustic, waltzy feel comes from the toy xylophone bells dinging in the background. The Shmat felt these choices of different instruments were prudent, giving the songs an important extra little touch that sets them slightly apart from the work of other folk-slinging folks. All in all, the Shmat thinks this is very decent work for such a humble, home-produced release.


- review by SHMAT (8.3.03)        

Nobody's Favorite Records
34 West Main St.
Dudley, MA 01571
mark@the-brands.com
www.the-brands.com



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