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The National Lights - The Dead Will Walk, Dear

Released on Blood Shake Records, 2/27/07

Though not necessarily a novel debut from Richmond, Virginia’s The National Lights, The Dead Will Walk, Dear is a simple and thoughtful reaction from musicians very obviously in love with the neo-folk movement we find ourselves submerged in as of late. So if it is something innovative and new you seek, do not stop here. The National Lights is for those who love the hushed vocals of Sufjan Stevens, the banjo triplets of Iron & Wine, the lap steel of Calexico, the harmonies of early Mountain Goats, and yet do not mind the glaring, unadulterated similarities.

On the first few listens I found the album trite and tired. The lyrics seemed overdone, the musicianship underdone, and the over-all style incomparable to those listed as The National Lights’ main influences: Iron & Wine, Mark Kozelek, The Court & Spark, Bellwether, and Vetiver. Founder Jacob Thomas Berns’ lyrical execution of what he describes as “…Southern Gothic literature meets 80s slasher films” is exactly as it sounds -- pulpy, campy, and gory. Berns addresses dead loves and no regrets with a creepy tenderness and whispery vocal treatment that gets old fast, and the musical arrangement leaves much to be desired.

But then I was ambushed! I found myself whisper-singing right alongside Berns and guest vocalist Sonya Cotton’s standard-yet-powerful harmonies. I found the melodies had escaped my criticism and I suddenly knew the album intimately. There is something I oftentimes forget about the simplicity of well-structured folk songs; they are familiar before we even hear them, and there is beauty in this sort of surprise. Like it or not, The Dead Will Walk, Dear may find itself creeping onto your playlist after all.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars