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The Graham Album Review #1853

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The Currys: West of Here
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/6/2016)

Sibling and family groups have a long history in pop music. There is something about people who had been singing together for most of their lives that makes for especially tight vocal harmonies. Going back to the big band days with the Andrews Sisters, and the Every Brothers in the rock days, and more recently the groups like the Avett Brothers. There seem to be more such family bands turning up recently. This week we have an excellent new recording that shows how the bonds of shared DNA can make for a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. It's the new second album by The Currys, called West of Here.

The Currys are brothers Tommy and Jimmy Curry and cousin Galen Curry. Tommy and Jimmy grew up in Florida and Galen was from Upstate New York, but they occasionally got together to make music throughout their youth whenever family was visiting usually in Florida. A few years ago, they started making music together more frequently and playing in places like oyster bars in Florida. They were heard by country artist Billy Dean, who invited them to perform at the Florida Folk festival. They gradually gained audience and made a tour of Ireland. They released their debut album, Follow in 2013, which was funded by fans on the social media. Since then, they have been touring extensively and paid us a couple of visits on the Homegrown Music series, so – full disclosure – I am friends with and a confirmed fan of the trio. But irrespective of that, they have created a really fine new album, with more mature songwriting, more eclectic but understated production, and more of their outstanding vocals. On this album, the lead vocals are shared more widely, after Jimmy Curry did much of the lead vocal work on their last album. The same producers, Chris Keup and Stewart Myers who worked with the Currys on their last album, again are present on West of Here, and keep things sounding tasteful. While the last album was mainly a band record with drums and bass and similar arrangements on many of the tunes, the new recording is actually more acoustic in sound, with some of the tracks having more scaled-back arrangements, focusing on the three Currys. Their vocal harmonies remain a great strength. And with different songs featuring different lead vocals, it's interesting to hear how each of them has a very different vocal range.

As before, many of their lyrics explore relationships, and are basically love songs of different colors. But they manage to cast some originality onto the classic subject of songwriters over the decades. I think that their lyrics show a more depth on the new album.

West of Here opens with an appealing love song of intimacy called Hold Me Here, with Jimmy Curry on the lead vocal. <<>>

Somewhat more upbeat in sound is If I Find It, which features drums, and some of the trio's attractive harmonies. <<>>

Also with a more rock-influenced sound is a track sung by Galen Curry, Firestarters. It's yet another angle to the exploration of relationships. <<>>

Tommy Curry does lead vocal on Cream and Crimson another of the quieter songs on the album, though the lyrics are reminiscent of an old folk song with its narrative nature and more complex mood. <<>>

Another of the more melodically appealing songs on the album is Hours and Days, though the mood is bittersweet. Jimmy Curry's sincere vocal, as usual, is outstanding. <<>>

Do It Again is another of the songs sung by Galen. Musically it's fairly conventional, but the lyrics are another clever take on the love song paradigm. <<>>

The title track West of Here, sung by Jimmy has a distinctly country touch with the Dobro and the rather straight rhythm. <<>>

A piece called Tastee Freeze is probably the epitome of the sound of the Currys in terms of their attractive songwriting and fine vocal harmonies. <<>>

The Currys again prove on their second album West of Here that there is a special musical bond that is apparent in family groups. Though Jimmy, Tommy and Galen Curry all have rather different vocal sounds, their blood lines no doubt have aided them in developing their irresistible harmonies. But it also helps that individually they are fine singers and songwriters. They emerged in 2013 fully formed with an album we picked for the top Graham Award that year, and now they are back with perhaps an even better recording, adding their experience on the road, both with and without a backing band, to make a batch of songs that are more varied and have more depth. And they do it without studio tricks and not a synthesizer to be heard.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The Currys' vocals are well-captured and warm, without annoying studio effects. The producers realized that their vocals shouldn't be messed with. The acoustic instruments are also rather well recorded. There is the obligatory volume compression to artificially jack up the loudness, thus taking away from the dynamics of their performance, but compared to the lo-fi rendering of so much music these days, it's refreshing.

The Currys borrow a very old term in describing their music as “folk-rock.” I supposed that's true in a way, but rather than being retro as the term would suggest, these two brothers and a cousin carry on a tradition that has never become irrelevant, and do it exceptionally well.

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