The annals of Burlington music history are littered with bands that released one great album and then, for one reason or another, fell apart, never to be heard from again. In the early 2000s, Burlington’s Will were one such promising Queen City outfit. The harmony-heavy, alt-country band released an excellent self-titled debut in 2005. And then … well, nothing. Like so many talented local acts, they simply faded away, providing yet another footnote to the story of Burlington rock city.
But in the incestuous local rock scene, it’s not unusual for various members of defunct bands to intermingle and form new ones. (Call it the “Colin Clary corollary.”) In a way, this age-old game of musical chairs provides a comforting sort of continuum. What’s more unusual is when the members of a dead act “get the band back together,” reuniting with essentially the same lineup after years apart. Rarer still: when the new incarnation is even better.
Such is the case with Burlington/Rutland’s Split Tongue Crow. Comprising four-fifths of Will and new vocalist Cara White, the group’s self-titled debut picks up where the band left off six years ago. Time apart has treated the group well. The new record is compositionally sophisticated and emotionally nuanced, combining Will’s knack for breezy hooks with previously unseen depth and maturity.
As with wine, time has mellowed these musicians. Where Will’s brand of alt-country often veered closer to twang-infused indie rock, Split Tongue Crow favor a lighter touch. “Avalon” unveils this refined aesthetic in an airy swell of delicate vocal harmony. Over moody acoustic-guitar arpeggios, lead vocalist and primary songwriter Eoin Noonan delivers a cunning melody, balanced by elegant work from backing vocalist and punctuated by electric guitarist David Anderson’s fluttering eruptions. The result is something like an amplified Blind Pilot, or Delorean in their more melancholy moments.
“No Reservations” is the album’s centerpiece and the finest example of Split Tongue Crow’s metamorphosis. Bright vocal harmonies and swooning fiddle dovetail above Matt Morro’s easy shuffle and former Will cohort (and current Cash Is King front man) Conor McQuade’s organ sustains. It’s among the most overtly “alt-country” tracks of the bunch, but still manages to showcase the band’s newfound finesse. So do the following cut, “Hearts and Valleys”; the White-led “The Day You Left This Earth”; and stunning album closer “Waking Up.”
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed something until you find it again. We’ve missed Will but could quickly fall in love with Split Tongue Crow. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
The band plays the Shelburne Steakhouse & Saloon this Saturday, January 22.