(Brushfire Records, CD)
The English language reportedly contains nearly one million words, with thousands more coined every day. With such a staggering array of terms to choose from, why do so many songwriters use the same tired clichés and ham-fisted metaphors over and over again? I'm considering founding an action group to deal with the matter. We'll call ourselves M.A.C.E - Musician Advocates for Cliché Eradication - and meet monthly to discuss strategy and, possibly, a better acronym. First on the agenda: Animal Liberation Orchestra, or ALO.
Hailing from California, ALO trade in the type of breezy, sun-soaked jam-pop popularized by surfer-dude-turned-acoustic-guitar-wielding-heartthrob Jack Johnson. The group makes its home on Johnson's label, Brushfire Records and presumably spends loads of time sitting around beach bonfires, discussing how rad life is, bro. Unfortunately, they don't appear to spend much time discussing how to write about it.
Roses and Clover is loaded with the type of welterweight wisdom one would expect to find on bumper stickers in a head shop or, perhaps, any recent Dave Matthews Band album. ALO recently toured with DMB and seem to share the same penchant for comparing the soul to water. And trees. And clouds. They also compare love to water. And trees. And clouds. Come on, guys. One million freakin' words! Buy a thesaurus.
Fortunately, there are only eight notes in a scale, and ALO use them all extremely well. Guitarist Dan Lebowitz, bassist Steve Adams, multi-instrumentalist Zach Gill and drummer Dave Brogan are talented musicians and play superbly. Bouncy guitar riffs are buoyed by sparkling keys, snappy drums and nimble bass lines, creating songs that can cause even the most jaded East Coast critics to tap their toes. Assuming they can ignore the lyrics.
Ultimately, Roses & Clover is a great-sounding album, as it should be. It was mixed and mastered by knob-fiddler and fader-tweaker extraordinaire Robert Carranza, better known for his work with Beck and Los Lobos. Tragically, not even Paul Moore, credited with "additional inspiration" on the ninth track, "Lady Loop," can save this record from the clumsy writing that litters it. And, no, I don't know who Paul Moore is. Perhaps he'll be at the Higher Ground Ballroom this Wednesday, May 9, with ALO. I hope so. After listening to this album, I could use a little inspiration.