CD Review of Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat by Carbon Leaf

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Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat
starstarstarno starno star Label: Vanguard
Released: 2006
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Carbon Leaf are a walking, talking testament to the major-label record industry’s total and utter disinterest in what the public wants. I realize this statement seems easily dismissible as the hyperbole of a guy who’s just partial to the band because they’re from his state (Virginia), but there are facts to back up this position.

  • In 2000, the late, great Internet Underground Music Archive awarded Carbon Leaf first place in a competition for best video by an unsigned artist for “Flood.”
  • In 2002, the band wins the Coca-Cola New Music Award at the freakin’ American Music Awards. They’re introduced by Sheryl Crow and Lit, and they perform their song, “The Boxer,” to an estimated audience of 80 million people; they are the first unsigned artist ever to play the Awards. Later that year, the song wins first place in the rock category of the International Songwriting Competition.
  • In 2003, Carbon Leaf won the Pontiac Vibe Summer Sound Off, which once again found "The Boxer" in the spotlight, this time being played in Pontiac Vibe commercials on MTV and VH1.

Now, mind you, in 2004, Carbon Leaf signed to the well-respected indie label Vanguard Records – currently the home of Blues Traveler, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Edwin McCain – but with all those achievements under their belt, one really has to ask: why didn’t a major label snap up Carbon Leaf the second they stepped offstage from performing at the American Music Awards?

Best not to think about it. It’ll only depress you.

Moving on to happier topics, Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat is Carbon Leaf’s second album for Vanguard, and, thankfully, it’s more of the same catchy pop/rock music you’ve come to expect from these guys. This time around, however, the group opted to work under the watchful eye of producer Peter Collins, a man with a list of credits as long as your arm (including Nik Kershaw’s Human Racing, Rush’s Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, and David Mead’s Luxury of Time); his deft ability at twiddling the knobs has resulted in a little bit more going on in the background.

First single “Learn to Fly” has the standard Carbon Leaf sound to it: jangly guitar, catchy chorus, smooth harmonies, and singer Barry Privett in the forefront. It’s a shame, however, that the label didn’t go a different direction to introduce the album to listeners; there are far better nominees for a single, including the title track, which would most likely grab Dave Matthews fans. You don’t have to be an equestrian to enjoy the galloping pop of “A Girl and Her Horse,” which espouses the concept that while honesty might be the best policy, “some things are best left between a girl and her horse,” while the chugging “Bright Light” and the bouncy chorus of “Comfort” both make for pleasant listening as well. “The War Was in Color,” the epic tale of combat told from a grandfather to his grandchild, is a bit heavy-handed, but, that having been said, it still contains some powerful moments during its six minutes.

Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat might not be the strongest album in Carbon Leaf’s substantial back catalog, but it’s unquestionably the best-sounding disc in the bunch and, musically, the fans will come away as happy as they went in.

~Will Harris