Quiet Life

Act Natural

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Following up a split-single debut in 2007 with a full album the following year, on Act Natural Quiet Life showcase a sound that touches on everything from understated folk to twangy Gram Parsons-style country good times to a bit of murky swamp gothic haze -- which perhaps is not what might be expected for a band from New Haven, Connecticut, but that's part of the joy of the modern world, after all. Brothers Sean (vocals and guitars) and Ryan Spellman (drums and some singing), along with bassist Paul Dutton and guitarist Craig Rupert, make up the band, and if Act Natural is somewhere between calm Southern rock tribute and 21st century expression of the style -- if this band hasn't opened for My Morning Jacket yet, it won't be long now -- it's a fine enough start. Sometimes affectation might be pushing it -- the fact that the song title of "California" is pronounced in an intentionally dialectical fashion both works and almost stands out too much, for instance -- then the band's general approach is at worst enjoyably tasteful and at best enjoyable, full stop. When they amp up the swagger in their arrangements, as on "Every Dime," or create a slow building arrangement that crests with a serene grace on "Sweet Smile," Dave Ulrich's additional banjo a crowning touch, then they find their voice in full. Sean Spellman himself might be the band's weakest link -- his higher pitched vocals are kissing cousins to someone like early Marc Bolan, say, but are often overshadowed by the instruments. That said, sometimes things mesh together nicely as on the choppy arrangement of "Did You Love Me," an album highlight and featuring a great turn on trumpet from guest trumpeter John Panos.

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