By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
It has to be hard for a St. Louis-based alt-country band led by a throaty lead singer to escape the shadow of Son Volt. Marc Chechik's outfit Melody Den labors squarely in the alt-country tradition, and while few can match Jay Farrar's vocal gravitas or lyrical density, the band gives it an honest shot by combining broke-down desolation and fist-swinging righteousness. Co-produced by Joe McMahan and longtime RFTcontributor Roy Kasten, the record conveys the intimacy of a living-room performance by keeping Chechik's Marlboro-stung voice at the forefront on the quieter tracks. The rest of the songs motor along with a bar band's enthusiasm, shaking with Telecaster twang and no shortage of vocal grit. The guitars strum along in time, and every so often a reverberating solo cuts through the middle. But this is a songwriter's record and in keeping with the genre, Chechik sings his lyrics with more conviction than grace. It's a style that suits these earthy, weathered songs.
The ten tracks on Melody Den touch on broken love, long roads and mid-life revelations. The lyrics veer towards cliché a little too often, but Chechik can occasionally salvage the lyric and spin it into something lovely or poignant. "Twenty Miles" finds a doomed couple approaching their relationship's end in the prison of a road-tripping car, and the isolation and desperation of the story is reflected in the sparseness of the instrumentation. The band handles the rockers as well as the ballads; "Save Your Sermons" rocks with a sinister, snearing edge, while "Let Me Sleep" changes the mood with a guitar-pickin', floor-stompin' blues tempo. Melody Den gives a varied tour of Americana's back roads though like a ride through the Kansas cornfields, you'll swear you've seen the sights somewhere before.
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