Whether you call it folk music or “acoustic singer songwriter,” one thing is for certain; Sheldoncole is a talented musical act deserving of much broader attention. This 2019 release Belarus knocked my socks off from first listen. I am eager to present this review to our devoted fans of folk and singer songwriter music.
From the first notes of the opener “1994” there’s a bit of a grungy, almost alt rock feel to the sound. Sheldoncole can be smooth and atmospheric at times, but this one gets earthy very quickly. The harmonies in the background work to elevate the overall mood of the track. The following “Freak” also has a gritty rock tone to it. Then when the chorus opens up the listener can hear light hearted piano melodies with almost pop quality lead vocals. The balance is fascinating. It’s definitely a sound that has the potential to resonate with a lot of audiences.
The third track “Russia” takes the listener to a more old fashioned pop place. The chord progression feels like it might have been borrowed from Brian Wilson’s song book. That said, the lead vocal steals the show on this one again. Containing some of the best harmonies on the full album, “Russia” is almost in contrast of the “Surfin’ in the USA” vibe from the 60s. It’s fascinating to hear this sound come back in earnest, not as a mockery of the old style in any way.
The title track “Belarus” slows down the beat a bit, but keeps up the unique take on folk music. There’s a genuine expressiveness in the vocal that feels like you’ve heard it before but trust me you haven’t. I guarantee that if you put this track on a playlist and played it for your friends people would want to know who this is. The experimental timing throughout the track makes it endlessly interesting. It’s a vibe out track for sure.
“Fears” is the track that introduced me to Sheldoncole and it is absolutely the class of this album. The harmonies on the chorus are just divine. The whole track is really interesting though, in its own right. It’s clear that the composer of this track has a sort of “pop ballad” sensibility. But I can’t get over the harmonies. The connection in the lyrics about the “demons at the door” works really well, too. The whole mood of the track is a hit for me.
The track “Proud” has a nice, easy going style to it. For some reason it reminds me of something from an artist like Jackson Browne in the early 70s. Maybe it’s the piano, maybe it’s the chromatic pop vocals, or maybe it’s just the more-complex-than-you-expect lyrics… but it’s a really good tune. The following “Mexico” shifts back to the acoustic singer songwriter mode in the opening rather than the full band style. It’s the most intimate recording on the album, preserving a sense of connection. As the track develops it feels a bit darker than what we usually feature but it works with the grungy elements mentioned at the start of the review.
“Father Forgive Me” is a bit of a unique track that feels like it would be religious in nature. Instead it’s more of an alt rock track like some of the earlier tracks on the album. The electric guitar work on this one really pops, setting the track apart from others on the album.
The full album can be taken as something truly unique, which is something we find to be kind of rare in today’s music landscape. These songs are all deceptively difficult. They come across like an easy going track, but actually have complex chord progressions. Even the melody lines that are flawlessly executed are far more complicated than meets the ear. I’ll be interested to hear how this group continues to develop in future work. The contrasting acoustic and electric textures throughout the album show that the band could go in a few different directions as they evolve. I’m here to witness, though, as long as these lush harmonies continue to define the identity of Sheldoncole’s music.