Grace Basement bandleader Kevin Buckley may be a world-class Irish fiddler, but his gifts for harmony and melody don't stop at jigs and reels. As a guitarist, singer and songwriter, he synthesizes 50 years of popular music into engaging, direct three-chord rock songs. Buckley played every note on Grace Basement's 2007 debut, New Sense, but his Gunmetal Gray is a full-band effort and features other special guests from St. Louis' rock, folk and Irish music scenes (including his father Jack, who contributes sweetly keening Uilleann pipes). Even though Buckley surrounds himself with talented players, these ten songs are peppered with his unique trademarks: immediate hooks, stacked vocals, serpentine fiddle runs and quirky but heartfelt lyrics.
Gray's easygoing pop swings in two directions. Certain songs are saddled with — but not bogged down by — a sense of resigned melancholy (the addiction lament/lullaby "Back of the Moon"). Others — such as the infectious opening track "There He Goes" — ramp up the group's perky, punchy, pop dynamics. On that sunnier tip, "On Your Side (Soldier's Song)" begins like a Sonic Youth jam and morphs into a horn-aided rocker reminiscent of Being There-era Wilco. Even slower songs such as "Why Would I Wait for Another?" and the stunning album-closer "Land of Endless Change" turn Buckley's blues into something grand and majestic, thanks to their precisely arranged instrumental codas. Few bands anywhere spin out songs that spring to life with a simple, earthy joy and heart-on-sleeve sentiment — but Grace Basement and Gunmetal Gray achieve this balance with emotional maturity and musical intuition.
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