Rustic Overtones

Light at the End

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Rustic Overtones, the rock septet from Maine, suffered a familiar if heartrending fate in 2002. After six years of working their way up in the music business, they released their major-label debut, Viva Nueva, on the Tommy Boy imprint of Arista Records in 2001, just as company president Clive Davis was being forced out (he subsequently forced his way back in, of course) and Tommy Boy was being shuttered. Naturally, Viva Nueva got lost in the shuffle, and Rustic Overtones broke up. Five years later, they reunited, and Light at the End represents their return to record-making. It demonstrates what all the fuss was about in the first place. This band's music is an embarrassment of riches, its lineup combining guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards with a three-piece horn section for arrangements that run the gamut from punchy funk-rock ("Rock Like War") to acoustic folk ("Letter to the President"), with much in between. The obvious chops of the musicians and their versatility are a double-edged sword, however, since the band can seem chameleon-like from one song to another, sounding like the Dave Matthews Band at one moment ("Valentine's Day Massacre"), and like Simply Red ("Hardest Way Possible") at another. The direct "Letter to the President" (from a G.I. in Iraq, of course) seems modeled after Plain White T's' "Hey There Delilah," while "Troublesome" and the title song demonstrate a familiarity with the Beatles (early and late phases, respectively), and sometimes, as on "Happy," Rustic Overtones just sound like a good old soul band. Fortunately, what ties it all together is singer Dave Gutter's foggy, grainy voice. Again, the timbre of that voice is familiar -- a little Matthews, a little Mick Hucknall, a little Rod Stewart, etc. But, along with the talented band, it makes for the kind of quality music that attracts loyal followings and, for better or worse, A&R men. Maybe in the new industry environment of the 21st century, with the major labels in decline, Rustic Overtones will be able to keep better control of their own destiny and soldier on. By the evidence of this comeback disc, they deserve to.

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