Lawrence Arabia

Chant Darling

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Lawrence Arabia is the nom de plume of New Zealand singer/songwriter James Milne. At different times he was a member of fellow NZ groups the Ruby Suns and the Brunettes, and like both those bands, Lawrence Arabia is sunny, feel-good music that draws from the history of melodic pop music but gives it a unique feel. In this case Milne is influenced by the usual suspects like the Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys, the Beatles, and folk-rock bands like the Byrds, but also some oddballs like Harry Nilsson and Robyn Hitchcock. (Indeed, his vocals sound like a pleasing cross between John Lennon’s sardonic sneer and Nilsson’s angelic tones.) This means his harmony-filled, classically structured songs have a pleasing current of whimsy and weirdness running through them -- not enough to make the album comedy rock but enough to keep it from being just another album about feelings and boring stuff like that. Sure, he can knock the stuffing out of a lost-in-love song (check the lovely "Like a Fool" for an example), but it’s nice to hear someone tackle off-kilter subjects with wit and, more importantly, great melodies and inventive production. Milne is able to tackle a variety of styles with equal skill, whether it’s the shimmering power pop of "Apple Pie Bed," the folky, world music-ish "Auckland CBD Part Two," or the country-rocking "I’ve Smoked Too Much." The album flows from style to style gracefully, and by the time it comes to a close, it’s clear that Chant Darling is the work of a guy with a firm handle on what it takes to make an interesting, engaging record.

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