(Self-released, CD, digital download)
The story of the Sweet Remains is kinda neat. It goes thusly: Three dudes who have had varying degrees of pop-music success meet by chance in a Rhode Island hotel room. During the ensuing jam session, said dudes discover a distinct musical kinship and resolve to start a band. And they resolve to make it work, despite challenges both geographical (living in different parts of the country) and biographical (day jobs, fledgling solo careers, families, etc.).
Lo and behold, it does work. Drawing on their collective established fan bases, the Sweet Remains carve out a modest, workable niche for themselves, touring and recording on their own terms and generally living both the dream and happily ever after. If it were a movie, it would be a feel-good bromantic comedy starring Jason Segal, Jonah Hill and James Franco, with cameos by John Mayer and maybe a drugged-out David Crosby. And should said brom-com ever be greenlit by a Hollywood exec, it would already have a soundtrack in place: the Sweet Remains’ second record, North & Prospect.
Much like their 2009 debut, Laurel & Sunset, and as its title suggests, North & Prospect is primarily concerned with navigating life’s crossroads. The band’s three songwriters — Greg Naughton (NYC), Brian Chartrand (Phoenix) and Rich Price (Burlington) — juxtapose time-honored pop-music themes of love and wanderlust with the more mundane and sometimes harsh realities of growing up or getting older — no, they’re not the same thing. At the risk of a spoiler, the band’s general consensus mostly falls in line with the words of Liverpool’s greatest rock philosophers: All you need is love.
The Sweet Remains’ sophomore studio album — they released a live disc last year — is almost shamelessly bright and optimistic, like the aforementioned John Mayer on a Zoloft bender. And why not? Somehow, in an age when countless musicians struggle just to snag a gig at the local coffee house, the Sweet Remains have figured out a way to succeed musically — they’ll tour Europe in April — while balancing “real” lives. And this in their late thirties and early forties, when it’s common for musicians to grudgingly put down their guitars, as so many childish things.
It’s precisely this unyielding optimism that makes North & Prospect so damned likable and prevents it from treading too far into sensitive-guy pop schmaltz. Much as Price has done in his solo work, the Sweet Remains craft snug, warm little tunes and deliver them with exceptional polish and grace. The album is not without occasional moments of gooey sentimentality that would make David Gray blush — “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “The Moment” — but it’s a roundly solid effort that aficionados of elegant acoustic pop will no doubt adore.
North & Prospect by the Sweet Remains is available at cdbaby.com.