(Yep Roc Records, CD)
Dolorean got their start in 1999 with low-key performances in restaurants, cafés and basements around their hometown of Portland, Oregon. Their stark, melodic folk-pop soon gained greater recognition, and in 2002 the band was scooped up by Yep Roc Records of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Violence in the Snowy Fields, Dolorean's second release for the label, adds a bit of twang to their folk-inflected ditties.
Opener "The Search" trades in old-time imagery, with singer/guitarist Al James plaintively asking where wisdom can be found. His rough-edged, earnest voice nicely matches the song's rustic accompaniment. Countrified snare snaps and strummed acoustic guitar form the song's backbone, with saloon-style piano coloring the edges. A jagged guitar solo pierces the center, giving the tune a bristling urgency.
Delicate strings and finger-picked acoustic guitar provide "Put You to Sleep" with moody ballast. Somber and suggestive, James' lyrics describe a formerly empathic relationship that has seen better days. The mournful lullaby is a great example of Dolorean's sad-sack style.
"Dying in Time" is a standout, with its slow-motion progression supported by a funky bass figure and shuffling percussion. James' blackly comedic lyrics are more than a little tongue-in-cheek. "If you love me as I love you / Then you'll save a drop for me," he sings. "If we taste fire, or if we taste Paradise / Baby let's die at the same time." Morbid, for sure. But the macabre subject matter and slow sashay makes for the most romantic suicide tune since "Don't Fear the Reaper."
"My Grey Life (Second Chances)" is a sweetly antagonistic sing-along. "I've given myself to you, completely without consideration," James croons. "So what if you did that with him / What would I do/ Well, I believe in second chances /For everyone but you." The cutting commentary is once again offset by a sugary melody and tender acoustic guitar. It's this awkward balance between the sympathetic and the cynical that makes Violence in the Snowy Fields so compelling.
Dolorean owe a major debt to Harvest-era Neil Young as well as the Southern California folk-rock of the '70s. Some of their songs are so light that they might blow away in a stiff breeze, however. "To Destruction" is mediocre at best, the kind of tune that Ryan Adams might write before breakfast. Still, when everything clicks, Violence is as good as Americana gets. Hear them Wednesday, March 30, with Silo and Lowell Thompson at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge.