Some artists get all of their inspiration from one particular era; in the 21st century, it isn't hard to find bands that act like they haven't heard anything that was recorded before 1990. Nine Men's Morris, however, turns to different eras for musical inspiration, and that outlook generally serves the alternative pop/rock/adult alternative threesome well on their first album, It's a Wonderful Life. The New York City residents obviously identify with the more tuneful and melodic side of alterna-rock; they certainly aren't immune to the charms of Ben Folds Five, Weezer, the Gin Blossoms, or Oasis. But to fully appreciate where Nine Men's Morris are coming from on this 2004 release: One needs to go back a generation and know who some of their pre-'90s and even pre-'80s influences are -- influences (perhaps direct, perhaps indirect) that range from Big Star to Elvis Costello to the Beatles (whose unending affect on rock music is quite amazing when you consider that the Fab Four parted company in 1970). Another baby boomer influence one hears on this CD is Chicago -- an influence that might be considered unhip in some circles, but an influence that is creatively advantageous on It's a Wonderful Life (which was co-produced by Vaneese Thomas, a daughter of Memphis soul icon Rufus Thomas and sibling of Carla Thomas). Chicago, for all their slickness and commercialism, wrote some great songs; they had a fine sense of pop/rock craftsmanship, and the traces of Chicago that ones hears on parts of this album only add to its artistic health. Even so, It's a Wonderful Life falls short of perfect. Many of the songs are excellent, while a few are merely competent. But on the whole, It's a Wonderful Life leaves a very favorable impression of Nine Men's Morris, and makes listeners want to closely monitor their development.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson