Any rock band with a comma in their name is reaching uncomfortably far in the direction of the precious and the pretentious, and when the name in question is also a Herman Melville reference, the musicians aren't doing much to disprove this theory. The second album from San Francisco's Or, The Whale sounds significantly more down to earth than their moniker and its punctuation would lead you to believe, and their laid-back variety of dandified country rock is easy on the ears, but it also sounds like the work of cowboys whose boots haven't spent much time in the field. Writing a song about Jimson Weed in which no one vomits or passes out ("Datura") suggests a certain lack of familiarity with your subject matter, and "Shasta" doesn't seem to have anything to do with either the soft drink or the mountain, once again calling the group's lyrical perspective into question. But if Or, The Whale's songs don't always ring true, the melodies are strong and engaging, and vocalists Lindsay Garfield and Julie Ann Thomasson make the most of the material (Matt Sartain and Alex Robins aren't quite as impressive as front en, but they hardly embarrass themselves, either.) The picking and harmonies from the seven members of Or, The Whale is quite good, with high marks going to Tim Marcus at the pedal steel, and after a decade of alt-country bands trying to make like a cross between Merle Haggard and Social Distortion, the notion of an act who sound like a pack of grad students going back in time so they can open for the New Riders of the Purple Sage is at least novel. But Or, The Whale doesn't seem to have a whole lot of heart to go along with their chops and imagination, and with this kind of music, that's a flaw all the harmonies in the world can't fix.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming