Darren Hanlon

Hello Stranger

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    8
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On the consummately enjoyable Hello Stranger, his first full-length release following on the heels of his Australian breakthrough EP, Early Days, Darren Hanlon delivers the logical follow-up, further refining his impressively accomplished pop hooks and lyrical wit. This is a perfectly vibrant mix, with the arrangements crackling with a live intensity and musical looseness, and Hanlon proves himself a songwriter and tunesmith clearly in the line of greats like Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg in his ability to pair memorable melodies with clever songwriting. Even with rather odd lyrical subjects, such as the man who invented the kickstand in the strangely earnest "The Kickstand Song," his songs rarely suffer from an overreaching sense of wistfulness. No doubt he has picked up a thing or two from his work with fellow Aussies the Lucksmiths, but Hanlon trumps them in nearly every facet of their game, turning out melodies even more durable and lyrics not nearly as cloying. In fact, the consistency and eclecticism displayed is nothing short of amazing, as his seemingly inexhaustible resource of melodies and whimsical observations covers every inch of the album's ten tracks. Proving himself just as well suited with jangly guitar pop as he is with gloriously weary piano balladry, his talents are amplified by the added texture of nearly perfect touches of vibraphone, pedal steel, violin, and harp to match his entirely good-natured vocals. From start to finish, Hello Stranger rings out with a true buoyancy and ultimately rates as one of the rare jewels in a rather ho-hum season of singer/songwriter releases.

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