When singer/songwriter Ernie Halter titled his last regular studio album Starting Over in 2008, he was thinking more personally than musically, reflecting on the breakup of his marriage, but doing so in the same musical terms as on his previous album, 2007's Congress Hotel. He may wish he had held onto the title Starting Over for this album, Franklin & Vermont (named after the cross streets where he lives in Los Angeles), since he really does seem to be starting over musically here, self-producing and stripping down the arrangements to just himself on guitar or a keyboard instrument, plus a restrained rhythm section, which harks back to the stark sound of his debut album, 2005's Lo-Fidelity. But the instrumentation is less significant that the songwriting and the vocal performances. Halter is a romantic who expresses himself in simple, sincerely sung pop songs. He sings in a supple, breathy tenor, and his songwriting displays pop craftsmanship; there's always a catchy chorus, and a bridge comes along after a couple of verses to provide musical variety. Love is sometimes good and sometimes bad, or rather, it's always good, but sometimes, for reasons the singer himself doesn't seem privy to, not working. That is the case, for example, in the leadoff track, "Hard to Let a Good Love Go." That's a characteristic title for Halter, but it raises the question, if the love is good, why does it have to be let go, anyway? The answer seems to be that the decision is out of the singer's hands. He consoles himself by the end that no one can take away from him "This Beautiful Ache." Halter co-writes some of these songs (a couple with Lady Antebellum's Jason "Slim" Gambill) and finds covers that express his feelings from the catalogs of Squeeze ("Black Coffee in Bed") and Coldplay ("In My Place"). But it all adds up to the same sweet longing for love that sometimes is within his grasp, and others times inexplicably absent.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann