Augustana

Can't Love, Can't Hurt

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All the Stars and Boulevards, Augustana's 2005 debut, sat idly on record store shelves for a year a half before finally cracking the Billboard Top 40. The album's linchpin was "Boston," a ballad whose slow crescendos and heartrending lyrics made it perfect fodder for television, where it received some much-needed attention during episodes of Scrubs and One Tree Hill. Augustana flourished under that exposure, and Can't Love, Can't Hurt attempts to keep the buzz alive by offering another batch of appealingly sentimental songcraft. The bandmates play their cards wisely this time around, refusing to load the album with the pale "Boston" imitations that would likely secure more TV coverage at the expense of the group's credibility. Instead, Augustana delivers a pleasant mix of traditional, vaguely rootsy pop/rock songs, with Dan Layus' affable vocals at the forefront.

"Hey Now" and "I Still Ain't Over You" set the stage within the album's first nine minutes. Inspired but not grandiose, the songs deliver a sort of grounded uplift for those who prefer their Fray albums with a side of Limbeck's twangy pop and sweet harmonies. There are several semi-ballads here, too, including the leadoff single, "Sweet and Low," but Layus' somber piano arpeggios (which once played the bulk of the band's hooks) now share the spotlight with his bandmates' guitar riffs. Accordingly, Can't Love, Can't Hurt is more aligned with Counting Crows than Coldplay -- even when the piano dominates the instrumentation, it does so with the same dusty, alt-rock reverence as Adam Duritz's delivery on "A Long December." Those looking to slow-dance and/or hoist their lighters will find a friend in "Fire," the album's closet cousin to "Boston," but this sophomore effort has much more to offer.

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