Love and Theft

Love and Theft

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Three years after their 2009 debut World Wide Open, Love and Theft is now a duo of Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson, having lost Brian Bandas sometime in 2011. The departure of Bandas -- who was placed prominently on the cover of World Wide Open, giving the impression that Liles and Gunderson are stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight -- doesn't markedly change the sound of the group, who still specialize in sweet, soft country-pop. Unlike Rascal Flatts -- an early and not inaccurate comparison and not just because they used to share a label, Lyric Street -- Love and Theft never aim for arena bombast, not even when they try to rock & roll a little on "Girls Love to Shake It." They keep things crisp and clean, even finding a way to work in a whistling hook on "Inside Out," one of the sprightlier tunes here, and that cheerful, well-scrubbed persona is endearing even if it's never quite compelling. Then again, Love and Theft never attempt to be gripping: they rely on easy charm, slowly working their way into a listener's good graces, and this eponymous album functions similarly, seeming pleasant enough on first encounter, but with repeated exposure, all the amiability is ingratiating.

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