CD Review of Leavetaking by Peter Bradley Adams
Recommended if you like
eastmountainsouth, The Jayhawks, Darden Smith
Peter Bradley Adams:

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


espite what we all thought when we were dreaming of screaming crowds and platinum records for our teenage garage bands, signing with a major label is almost never the final act in a band’s early career struggles. Ask Peter Bradley Adams – he knows you can be scouted by no less a rock & roll legend than Robbie Robertson, cash an advance from the label touted as the artist-friendly imprint of the ‘90s, hunker down behind the boards with Mitchell Froom, and still have your band go down as a no-hit wonder whose contract is allowed to slowly wither on the vine.

Adams’ old band, the folk/pop duo eastmountainsouth, endured just such a fate after signing with DreamWorks; 2003’s eastmountainsouth was a minor cult hit, bearing a pair of enduring neo-folk standards in “You Dance” and the wedding anthem “So Are You to Me,” but the label – which had never been terribly adept at breaking new acts anyway – was in turmoil, and the album fell through the cracks.

Now, five years and a pair of solo releases later, Adams remains in the cracks – which is just fine. Leavetaking, like the albums that came before it, is the musical equivalent of a wonderful secret whispered after a gentle tap on the shoulder – the type of record that would sound pretty strange being beamed nonstop from high-wattage towers. The type of record that has always sounded best when discovered accidentally, cherished alone, and shared judiciously. It’s got to put a damper on Adams’ bank account balances, but hey – art should be suffered for, right?

Adams fans should know what they’ll get here – more beautifully hushed ballads, framed with quiet vocals and lots of acoustic stringed instruments. The album’s one real surprise is that it’s barely half an hour long – at just nine songs (one of which is a newish version of “So Are You to Me”), Leavetaking is over before you know it. This keeps Adams from wearing out his welcome, of course, but it also makes you wonder why, if he was going to take such pains to whittle down the record, he didn’t buckle down a little harder on the material. None of the songs are bad, mind you, but a few of them never amount to much more than pretty – like the brief instrumental closer, “Song for Viola.”

It’s tempting to imagine where this album might have gone had Adams had a few more songs like “The Longer I Run,” or “Los Angeles,” or “Keep Us,” all of which make melancholy sound like something worth aiming for. When he’s at his best, Adams is wonderfully compelling – his dusky vocals were made to be surrounded with acoustic guitars, mandolins, and female harmonies, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he knows his way around a hook. But the danger in recording this type of music is that you’re always a song away from fading into the wallpaper, and even though Leavetaking never falls that far, neither does it reach the heights it feels like it should. Call it a half step, albeit a particularly graceful one.

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