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Shearwater

Palo Santo (Misra)

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A side project culled from members of Okkervil River and Kingfisher, Shearwater has taken on a life of its own. On the group's fifth platter, Shearwater's become primarily the platform for songs by multi-instrumentalist and singer Jonathan Meiburg.

This album is beguilingly not of its time, with mood-setting orchestral arrangements, low-key but subtly engrossing melodies. With all the focus on Meiburg's fragile, mutable vocals, Palo Santo recalls the autumnal '60s baroque pop of the Left Banke and the Bee Gees, and the elaborate productions of Jeff Lynne, Brian Wilson, and Gus Dudgeon (of '70s pre-crap Elton John fame).

There's a great deal of unusual variety -- Meiburg's singing on "Sing Little Birdie" gracefully soars into a ghostly, almost country-blues register, flickering like a nearly spent candle, the ache palpable. Swathed in cavernous echo, the elegiac "Johnny Viola" could've come from an early Electric Light Orchestra album, but with its poignant, understated lyrics and delivery, it's more homage than imitation.

Sophisticated but never ponderous, Palo Santo is an ideal companion for housebound rainy, overcast, and/or reflective days.

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