Five years after the release of their first album, Jason Harrod and Brian Funck finally returned with a follow-up. This CD is a considerably more consistent listen than their very promising debut, Dreams of the Color Blind. Their songwriting has matured considerably (although their lyrics still occasionally seem forced or sophomoric). The superlative production on Color Blind is a tough act to follow, however, as it was the most inventive work of the late, great Mark Heard. The producer this time around is Ric Hordinski, the talented guitarist who helped found Over the Rhine. Hordinski would seem to be an excellent match for the Boston-based folk duo, because he has always done with electric guitars what Harrod & Funck do with acoustics: create three-dimensional, ambient landscapes of sound. But there is considerably less ambience under Hordinski's direction than under Heard's; the unique "hypnotized" acoustic sound the boys created so early in their careers has been largely de-emphasized in this album. There are still plenty of acoustic guitars (a few of the tracks have been recorded with almost nothing else), but often their familiar, mesmerized looping sound has been overshadowed by electric guitars -- either glossy '90s radio-style jangling or an intentionally strange, vaguely Talking Heads-like sound. In the latter case, the guitars seem to have been re-recorded a few speeds slower than they were played. The originality of the production is intriguing, once you get used to the change, and to the fact that Funck's most accessible songs ( "Ashes," "Wind in the Net") have been stylistically subverted. But Hordinski has perhaps failed to play to the band's strengths; he has also made the pair's harmonies virtually inaudible. Harrod's earnest tenor is a perfect counterpoint to Funck's resonant bass, and by themselves, both voices can sound like extremes in need of tempering. Regardless of the weaknesses, however, Harrod & Funck is a significant step forward for a talented pair of singer/songwriters.
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