The Willowz

Chautauqua

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The Willowz have become a well-oiled rock machine since their "Meet Your Demise" days, something they proved ably on 2005's Talk in Circles, where they showed they could deliver more sounds and ideas than the charmingly scrappy garage punk of their early singles. Chautauqua is just as sprawling, a little less inspired, but ultimately nearly as satisfying as Talk in Circles, with its first three songs mapping out the album's scope. "Beware," a tough, strutting rocker, "Take a Look Around," a twangy country-folk collage, and "Jubilee," a surly classic rock-inspired ballad that catches flame toward the end, find the Willowz polishing the eclectic approach of Talk in Circles and setting the tone for the rest of Chautauqua. At times, the album's more elaborate sound -- which is heavy on organs and massive guitars -- threatens to overpower tracks like "Siren Song" and "Warship," and at other times, the songwriting just doesn't seem as strong as it did on the Willowz's earlier releases. Fortunately, things jell as Chautauqua unfolds and, on the second half of the album, the band strikes a good balance between the immediacy and simplicity of its early work and its more recent ambition. This is particularly true of "Waiting to Fall"'s trippy pop and "All I Need," which boasts the album's most indelible melody; "Nobody" is the kind of loose, slightly cocky, and slightly goofy song that made the Willowz so appealing in the first place. Meanwhile, "Yesterday's Lost" and "Once and a While" prove that despite all the changes in the Willowz's sound, they still haven't lost their flair for deceptively sweet and simple acoustic melodies. Chautauquamay not be as big a leap forward as Talk in Circles, but it's another step in the right direction.

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