Review of Vertica, The Haunted South (Radiant Records, 2014). Songs: Holding Smoke; Temperance; Ghost of Summer; Always; Obsidian; You’ve Been Warned; The Wind Has Teeth; Believing and Pretending; The Furthest Place; Open Water; Pearl; One Last Chance to Resurrect; Go North.
The band: Emily Brunson (Lead Vocals); Tyler Downey (Guitar, Vocals); Joshua Ruppert (Bass); James McCurley (Drums, Vocals, Piano). Producer and Engineer: Jerry Guidroz
For quite a while in the 1990s, I thought pop couldn’t get much better than Sixpence None the Richer. The first album grabbed me, the second captivated me, and the third floored me. Absolutely floored me. I still think that third one (their 1997 self titled album) one of the best albums I’ve ever heard or probably ever will hear. It’s not at the level of Skylarking or Songs from the Big Chair, but it’s very, very close. Then, of course, came the fourth album, Divine Discontent. What a disappointment. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of disappointment I felt with Pure Reason Revolution’s Amor Vincit Omnia—which I discarded rather unceremoniously after only a few listens. What a piece of barnyard excrement that was. I’m honestly not sure how a band could fall so quickly and steeply.
Stop, Birzer! This isn’t an article about your personal rants or about the decline of PRR (though, The Dark Third is just so, so could—how could they fall apart so quickly. . . ).
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to praise a great (brilliant) new band. I’ve had a review copy of Vertica’s The Haunted South for a little over a month now. And, I’ve thought about writing this review ten to twenty times, at least. Today, I finally made myself write it. By made myself—I don’t want to suggest writing this is a burden. It’s not a burden in the least, though it is hard work. Why? The album is just so good, I owe it the very best review I can give it. The album is so good, writing a review of it somewhat intimidates me. On the good side. . . in the time I’ve had a copy of this album, I’ve listened to it at least thirty times. Probably once a day.
It’s not prog, but it is very fine pop-rock with lots of art and prog elements. If you could combine the best of Mazzy Star, Sixpence None the Richer, The Cranberries, and IZZ, you’d come very close to the excellence of this band. Some of it is folkish, some of it is simply poetic, some of it is gothic, some of it is pop, and some of it is very hard.
Yet, with nothing but excellence, The Haunted South all flows together.
There’s something distinctive about the voice of the lead vocalist, Emily Brunson. She does sound a bit like the lead singer of Sixpence, but without the coyishly girlish voice often employed on the poppier tunes of Sixpence. Brunson’s voice can be sweet, but it’s always utterly earnest and never saccharine. The lead songwriter, James McCurley, knows exactly how to write music to fit Brunson’s near perfect vocals as well. Anyway, no matter what style of music or genre Vertica is employing, Brunson’s vocals are so good and so distinctive, they essentially become the sound of the band.
This brings me to McCurley. This is a guy to watch over the next several years and even decades. He’s already proven his talent, now he will show us what a force he is. He can write music very well. I assume he’ll only get better. But, his greatest strength is his lyric writing. I’m always a sucker for great lyrics, and these are great lyrics. Poetic in a mysterious, haunting, fog-filled woods kind of way. Listening to this lyrics, I feel as though I’ve found a connection to the voice and soul of Flannery O’Conner, fifty years later.
If you order this CD, and you should, avoid the download. Not because the music isn’t wonderful—because it is—but because you owe it to yourself to own the booklet, complete with lyrics.
Oh, boy. Love finding new things. I’ll be following Vertica for years to come. And, the adventure has just begun.
To order (and you should; early and often), click either of these links.