Neal Casal

Return in Kind

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When singer/songwriters cite their influences, they usually run the gamut of performers. However, paying a sincere tribute to these influences in a full-length covers album is often a tricky idea -- sound too much like the original and you become nothing more than a parody; try too hard to make it something you own and fans consider it a disservice to the original performance. Neal Casal has balanced this perfectly for his album Return in Kind, starting off with a tender and heartfelt cover of the Faces' "Debris," which contains some wide-open, vast pedal steel accents alongside Casal's simple but strong delivery. It is definitely in the domain of the Guthries or Ryan Adams circa Gold or Cold Roses. For most of this record, Casal places his own subtle fingerprints on these gems, especially the lovely Gene Clark-penned "With Tomorrow" that has just the ample amount of strings underneath. The only problem with this record is that there is little difference between some songs, although the swaying, soulful, bluesy "Too Late" stands out from the rest. This is outdone, though, by the lovely "Be Real" that is simply Casal's pipes front and center behind some ordinary but deliberate guitar strumming. His piano rendition of Johnny Thunders "It's Not Enough" is, well, not enough to make a lasting impression. However, singer/songwriters or troubadours like Steve Earle and the late Townes Van Zandt immediately come to mind on "Miss Direction," given a hymn-like quality thanks to the organ. Casal opts for a traditional country blueprint à la Hank Williams or Willie Nelson on "The Portland Water," although the organ here shouldn't be included. While Casal has not penned any of these songs, you get the impression he can create songs just as strong as any shown here.

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