What do you get when you mix pop with folk with an unidentifiable array of eclectic influences nearly too numerous to account for ... and an unsettlingly honest mood of angst and depression?
Apparently it's Louisville's Two Cent Penny, a duo made up of songwriters Rob Gable and Audrey Cecil, supported by a cast of hired guns for a refreshingly solid debut EP.
From the production to the deft arrangements to the shiny vocals and melodies, there's a lot here to like. And the disc keeps the listener off guard, moving from melancholy pop to folk to good old fashioned roadhouse blues and back again.
"Spring Road" is an absolutely heart-wrenching tale by Gable that chronicles the first Christmas after the passing of a loved one, featuring some beautiful acoustic guitar work and Gable's strangely Celtic-like vocal delivery. Listen to the lyric and keep some Kleenex nearby.
"Back to Cali" (no, not the L.L. Cool J tune) is a song about longing and missing someone - as in, "You've gone back to Cali and I'm stuck without you here" - and Cecil's sweet vocal delivery absolutely makes this tune shine. The subtle strings create the right mood and the vocal harmonies add the finishing touch. Here's a word for you: wow.
Naturally, the next tune up is a raucous "Knoxville," which mixes a Dylan-esque lyric and progression with some dirty guitars and drums. It's a good, rockin' tune with some hot slide guitar and Gable's chorus calls of "That's all right!" even evokes the King at time. Sun Records should have released this as a single.
Cecil is back on lead vocals again on "Long Ride Home," a Patty Griffin cover that succeeds on the fact you can easily tell how much affection this duo has for the source material.
"Nothing Changes" takes a different turn, as Gable belts out a song of loneliness and self-loathing that, much like "Spring Road," offers up so much vivid detail as to be somewhat disturbing. If only more songs painted such an emotional picture. Cecil's backing vocals add a really spooky touch here too, especially during the spoken-word bridge.
With "Take Me Now Away," Two Cent Penny finds its way into yet another realm, with some nice fiddles by Paul Patterson (by way of the Cincinnati Philharmonic) that hover between Celtic and bluegrass/country. The song is a gospel-style prayer that pleads for serenity and redemption in death and features some beautiful playing and singing. (Nice modulation around 3:15 too.)
Ultimately, August goes in a number of different directions and finds its way, somehow, to a middle ground that works better than it probably should. Honestly, this is a disc that really should make Louisville sit up and take notice. I've written this in reviews before, but I continue to be amazed at how much talent there is in this River City and Two Cent Penny simply adds to that amazement.
Check out Two Cent Penny at www.myspace.com/2centpenny. Or go to the CD release party at the Rudyard Kipling September 29 and say hello in person.