Nine Days references Thomas Hardy in the title of its major-label debut, The Madding Crowd, but beyond the literary association the group is also making a point about its songs, which are embedded in modern life, not, as in Hardy, far from it. Co-leaders John Hampson (he of the smoother voice and the somewhat perkier attitude) and Brian Desveaux (whose throaty singing usually expresses more desperate feelings) have written an album's worth of songs about personal relationships that are often rocky, but always involved and involving. The "I" who is addressing a "you" most of the time frequently is trying to get back into her good graces, while admitting mistakes, though sometimes "you" isn't in such great shape, either. "If I Am," for example, begins with the line, "So you're standing on a ledge," but pledges, "I will not let you down," an assurance with a double meaning. You don't have to listen for the Hammond organ wail to realize that these guys have been influenced by Bob Dylan, and they erase any doubt in "Bob Dylan," for which they have received permission to sample excerpts from the master's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." But fans of more contemporary rock will be reminded more of Pearl Jam and They Might Be Giants, with the catchy "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" suggesting Barenaked Ladies. The alternating and harmonizing voices of the two lead singers often are reminiscent of BoDeans, though the group's music is usually more complexly arranged. Hampson and Desveaux still need to work on their songwriting, which can get too wordy and occasionally trips over itself ("If I Am," for example, employs the awkward line "Have in me a little faith" for the sake of a near-rhyme), just as their music can be a little dense at times. But The Madding Crowd is a promising debut by talented musicians who are headed in the right direction.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann