(State & Main Records, CD)
Since releasing his 2006 debut full-length, What Moves You Kid, songwriter Dan Zura has relocated from Montpelier to Hartford, Conn. But he’s maintained his central Vermont connection, offering a new EP, Sleeper Hit, on the capital city’s burgeoning new imprint State & Main Records. The limited-edition quickie is only the label’s third release, following an impressive, roster-wide compilation, State & Main Records Vol. 1, and an EP from Montpelier outfit First Crush. Clocking in at a brisk six songs, Zura’s latest is a charming affair that builds on the understated promise of his debut, and also suggests we should expect more good things from State and Main.
The EP opens on the title track and reintroduces Zura as a quietly compelling figure. In a pop-culture climate where “loud” is considered the most effective (only?) means of communicating, it’s refreshing to find an artist who relies on guile and nuance to get his point across. Zura’s fragile vocal delivery is delicate almost to a fault. His high, quavering tenor sounds as though it could crack and shatter at any moment. You have to work to pay attention. But Zura ensures the listener’s efforts will be rewarded, delivering deceptively complex prose wrapped in warm, fluttering melodies.
The organ-fueled “A Rag in the Rain” is next and shifts the mood from melancholy to … slightly less melancholy. If Sleeper Hit has a flaw, it may be that Zura offers very little thematic or dynamic variance from song to song. Particularly given his borderline-narcoleptic vocal style, this has a sort of hypnotic effect that drapes the whole record in a sleepy haze and could cause casual listeners to zone out at times. And that would be a shame.
“Broken Country” is a standout. Over lightly rambling acoustic guitar, Zura coos a crystalline melody that meanders into an ethereal ripple of steel guitar, organ and harmonica. Imagine a youthful Neil Young sedated with Xanax or Valium and you’re on the right the track.
Following the fanciful “Lydia,” Sleeper Hit closes with “Truck Strike,” a high-lonesome country tune that lopes along wearily to an exhausted but contented finish.
Dan Zura celebrates the release of Sleeper Hit at Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café on Saturday, May 7.