One of the best things about running a music blog is that you get to decide what to cover. Sometimes that comes with official editorial policies and a fancy process. Other times you just hear something, fall in love, and decide to write about it. I’ll keep this one straightforward; my thesis here is that I love the Ballroom Thieves and the music they make. Deadeye is no different. This album is an immediate contender for album of the year.
The opening track “Peregrine” is the first song I heard from this album and immediately loved it. The harmonies are absolutely stunning. The lyrics are a bit difficult to follow, but the sonic characteristics of the song make it so appealing that the message is secondary for me. It seems to be a song about admiration and maybe even love, but one way or another the layered vocals are really strong and endearing here. “For Mercy” has a little bit of blues, but a heavy Americana sensibility. The crescendos are really powerful, allowing for a dynamics that highlight the emotion of the song.
The Ballroom Thieves are one of the few bands who can sing powerful dynamics (nearly yelling) that I can enjoy. Usually distortion like that irritates me, but with this band I find that it adds an extra measure of power to the performance. They remind me a bit of a band called the Wood Brothers who are talented in a similar alt Americana way. “Canary” has a different lead vocal, but it really works. The strings steal the show on this one, providing a real sense of wonder and amazement. When they combine with more great vocal harmonies, the sound feels fresh and unique, while somehow timeless. “When I was a bird I could see how the moon had turned…” There’s some poetic lyrics on this one, too.
“Anybody Else” is a downtempo track that feels like it was written to close down the honkytonk. The organ on it fits better than you might imagine, allowing the church-like harmonies to soar nicely. “I never wanted anybody else…” is the repetitive refrain, perfect for a song about a lovesick person. It’s such a captivating song that helps the listener really FEEL a tangible connection with the music and the message. Too bad she’s a heartbreaker! Then the following “Pocket of Gold” is such a harsh stringed line that you’ll wonder if it fits on the album. I mean it does, but you have to consider the overall “alt Americana” style of the band. This is not early Nickel Creek, okay? It’s more like Punch Brothers, if you will. That said, sonically “Pocket” is as much a metal tune as it is country or bluegrass.
I really love “Trouble,” a quaint little ditty that feels like lemonade in the summertime tastes. It’s cool and fresh, with just a little bit of a sour kick to it. The vocal sounds like it was perfectly designed for the stage, perfect for musical theater. That said, when the full sound blends together you’ll find yourself nodding your head to this intriguing, unconventional song. I really enjoy the acoustic guitar work on “Bees” for different reasons, mostly because it feels like home. They are some of the best lyrics on the album. “Noble Rot” has some intriguing pacing to it, feeling a bit unconventional as well. The main communication of the song is about relational frustration. But the intense arrhythmia of piece conjures the conflict inherent in the lyrics. Nicely done.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really enjoy “Bartering” for the same reasons I like earlier tracks on the album. It has a nice, easy feeling to it along with Calin Peters’ lovely textured vocals. The string work sounds effortless, although it’s high quality. They sound more like Mandolin Orange than themselves. It’s more of a conventional Americana sound and, frankly, I’d love to hear a full album like this. “There is liquor and love, not enough of each one.” Preach.
“Storms” is a wonderful acoustic song that really rolls along nicely. It feels like a comfortable and engaging track, allowing the lead vocal to cut through the air like a knife. The lyrics wind along, both moving and cutting at the same time. The song comes across as a captivating tune that requires multiple listens to unpack and appreciate. The final track “Meridian” ends this excellent album with aplomb. The track has some shapes and tones that sound a lot like “Peregrine.” The cello really shines on this one, providing a “bottom” to the track that contrasts exceptionally well with the high vocals. When the tempo speeds up the percussion really gets hot and heavy. It’s a charging way to end the album, getting the dancers dancing and the crowd roaring I’m sure.
All told this album is fantastic. The vocal harmonies are the highlight for me, but other listeners might find the composition, unconventional styling, and string work just as compelling. I just really appreciate that The Ballroom Thieves push the boundaries of Americana music in such meaningful ways. I hope that others in the music industry take notice of this exceptional act and give them the praise they so deserve with the work on Deadeye.