Noah Gundersen

Ledges

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Born into a musical but very religious family, Noah Gundersen didn't hear many secular songs as a child, perhaps explaining the subtle and hushed gospel intensity and sincerity he brings to his songs, which, while definitely secular, deal with themes of loss, hope, and personal redemption nonetheless. This set is his first full-length outing following a trio of EPs, and it's a quiet, mostly ballad and lament-heavy sequence that leaves a powerfully subdued and emotional residue. Aided by the presence of his younger sister Abby Gundersen, a gifted string musician who adds violin, cello, piano, and gorgeous vocal harmonies to most of these tracks, Gundersen sounds a bit like the serious narrative side of Jackson Browne if Browne had wandered into Neil Young's Harvest sessions. That's both good and not so good. The best tracks here, like the beautiful "Poor Man's Son," which opens things, and the gorgeous Tom Waits-like lullaby lament "Time Moves Quickly," which closes things, have a kind of quiet strength, a gospel sureness of better days and times, and resound powerfully. Other tracks seem overly serious, with the joy half leached out of them, as if Gundersen forgot that singing is not the same as telling, however sweet the melody and redemptive the intent. One song, "Cigarettes," is so slow that it hardly has a rhythmic pulse at all, full of long, tortured pauses and restarts, a thus stuttered love ballad that still -- and this is Gundersen's odd strength -- conveys a kind of desperate, restrained passion that makes it emotionally work. This is a low-key, autumnal-sounding album that impresses with its unhurried pace and thoughtful, muted sincerity. The songs sound sad but each carries hope somehow, although a little jump and joy here and there might have given this set a little more spark. Life is lived in the sunshine, too.

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