The Mertons


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Simply put, Girandole is excellent, unpretentious heartland rock that will kick your gluteus without a second thought. On a less generic level, it is a leap into the upper echelon of '90s roots and country rockers for the Mertons, not only a commanding testament to the blazing power of the Kentucky four-piece but also a reminder of the remaining embers left in the traditional rock & roll formula. The band carries no banners or flags; however, they turn out a ferocious set of deeply felt tunes. J.P. Hanley has one of those thick, beefy, soul-shouter voices, part Adam Duritz, part Gregg Allman, part Ronnie Van Zandt, and his songwriting is entirely polished and accomplished. The songs are really something lyrically. On a strictly literary level, Hanley's words are loaded with lighthearted alliteration that gives the music a bit of Southern-tinged lilt and playfulness even when their content is not so. Generally, love and relationships are the starting points for many of the songs (although he deftly moves into common sense philosophizing or personalized sociopolitical commentary on songs like "Strain" and the instantly memorable "Guess I'd Better Leave"). They are more often than not songs of loss and longing, of failing or ending relationships, or, more exactly, the hurtful feelings that emerge from such experiences. Hanley's observations can be particularly biting and vengeful but are always honest and passionate, and frequently he shows an underlying vulnerability, almost as if he is using such tough sentiment as a way of masking his own pain. The band, on the other hand, is nothing but brute, powerful rock & roll force. They burrow through the album like a hopped-up pickup truck, swerving, swaggering, and kicking up great gusts of dust and gravel in the process. The rhythm section is particularly driving, churning out tracks that almost make the band sound like they are galloping. Above all, the album sustains a palpable sense of joy and overabundant energy. The music is triumphantly infectious from the first thundering riff to the end. The Mertons have hooks to spare, and their songs are all stellar, sturdy efforts, whether the hard-hitting pounders that make up most of the album or such lovely anomalies as the country weeper "What You Want" and the truly gorgeous Appalachian folk-rock of "Kerosene Lamp." The only quibble is that there is nothing particularly innovative or new about this sort of rustic, gutsy sound. Nevertheless, Girandole certainly upholds the rock & roll legacy from which it derives splendidly, even at the rock-suspicious turn of the millennium. It's not visionary, but it sure goes down as easily as (and packs as much wallop as) a six-pack or two on any given Saturday night.

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