Punk rock is fast and visceral, seen as the raw, beating heart of real rock music. Soft rock is syrupy and sentimental, the provenance of elevators and checkout lines. But all the Yacht Rock jokes and ironic Michael McDonald impressions don't erase the fact that the hallmarks of soft rock aren't at all easy to replicate. Those gossamer, diaphanous keyboards, featherweight rhythm sections and expertly layered harmony vocals took precision and expert ears. Sing along to a Peter Cetera-era Chicago song or try to play along with a Steely Dan chart, and you'll know the feeling. Ransom Note isn't a soft-rock band, exactly, but the local quintet certainly has a soft touch on its debut, It's You! The album cover, consisting of a single red rose, even recalls those K-tel comps of '70s AM Gold that litter the dollar vinyl bin. But under the direction of singer and lyricist Merv Schrock, this band of scene vets (including Sherman S. Sherman on bass and brothers Ben and Jon Parsons on guitar and piano, respectively) paints a gentle picture in broad, pastel-colored strokes.
It's tempting as it is to play "spot that song" with this album — Paul Davis, Marty Balin, Ambrosia and Stevie Wonder all sneak through in certain places — but it's less a pastiche of a derided genre and more of soft focus setting for Schrock's heartfelt and sometimes-shticky ballads. As a singer, Schrock takes a while to get into a comfortable range: He pushes his falsetto a little too hard on songs like the organ-fired "Venus," whereas "Roses" scrapes the bottom of his register. The band hits the mark with "Wishing Well," as a slinky shuffle and easy-listening synthesizer gives Schrock plenty of room. "Taken for Granted" mines a similar territory, with a little Latin swing and more weight placed on keyboardist Jon Parsons, who carries it with a studied, soulful approach. The groove continues with "Is It Right," which repeatedly asks, "why can't it be like yesterday?" Love doesn't always give second chances, but Ransom Note gives an honest shot at making it sound like yesterday once more.
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