Friday, May 21, 2010

Album Review: Common Prayer – There Is A Mountain

The first time I listened to Common Prayer’s There Is A Mountain, I was driving home from an afternoon spent in Tappahannock, a lovely little hamlet on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Eastern Virginia. The sun was starting its slow descent into the countryside, and the car was covered by a blanket of tall trees along the roadways, peachy sunlight poking through and creating long shadows along the pavement. It was, without question, the perfect accompaniment for the first haunting taste of Common Prayer.

Common Prayer is the brainchild of LET friend and favorite Jason Russo, pied piper of superior Brooklyn band Hopewell. Taking a break from his Hopewellian duties, Russo decided to pick up stakes and decamp in the United Kingdom for a spell and work his magic in the countryside. The fruits of said labors can be found in the form of the fantastical record I shall discuss with you now.

There Is A Mountain deftly explores Russo’s gift for the beautifully quirky, and shows off his charmingly off-kilter vocal and lyrical stylings. Opener “commonprayer” sets the idiosyncratic tone straight away, with gently-strummed banjo and Russo’s enchanting, offbeat lyricism (example: “I’ve been singin in and out of tune/it’s always been to you” and “I offer up my heart on a stick”). Mr. Russo and his helpers have made one of the finest records of the year, hands down. It’s overflowing with character unlike anything else you’re likely to hear, and its’ slanted and enchanted sound makes my little heart go pitter patter. “Hopewell,” perhaps a nod to Russo’s main project, kinda sorta makes me think of “My Darling Clementine.” Don’t ask, I can’t quite figure out why. It’s certainly not because of the Harrison-esque guitar sound, but the resemblance is there. My favorite, “Us vs. Them,” is sensational. Tinkling, twinkling piano and a dash of falsetto, well, you just can’t beat it. “I have my suspicions,” sings Russo, “that nothing’s real,” as the spritely swirl swells around him.

To make a potentially long story short(er), may I just say that There Is A Mountain is glorious, darling, magical, and almost as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. As much as I adore Hopewell, Common Prayer is quite a breath of fresh air. Don’t be surprised to see this here album perched on the Best of 2010 list, not just here, but all over the place.

mp3: Us vs. Them (Common Prayer from There Is A Mountain)

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