Carbon Leaf returns from Richmond, VA, with their follow-up album, Shadows in the Banquet Hall. The lyrics are often complex in this collection and are challenging to catch on first listen, so it's good that they include the words with the CD. Listeners will find some cuts, like "Reunion Monticello," a lot more comprehensible when they read the lyrics as they play the song. Of particular note is "Attica's Flowerbox Window," about a woman who first asks politely that her wish for a view be granted, and then, having been summarily denied, sets out with sudden decision to build it herself. With her own efforts attracting the attention and support of friends, the project is triumphantly completed. The song is a celebration of the breaking of conventional boundaries, and is definitely well worth repeat play. Barry Privett's skill at rapid-fire delivery is increasing with every album, and the instrumentalists -- Terry Clark on guitar, Carter Gravatt on mandolin, Devin McGuire on bass, and Scott Milstead on percussion -- weave a mix of sound to support it. The overall production is definitely a team effort, with each player enhancing the performance of the others. Listeners with an ear for the lyrics will notice that Privett has a series of images and themes that reoccur in his songwriting. The phrase "Shadows in the Banquet Hall" is included in "Come Again?" and then later on in "Toy Soldiers" on Echo Echo. The phrase "Whittle away" is in "Home" and later on "Mellow Tone." The theme of going home surfaces over and over again in "Dusk" on this album, "Home" on Ether-Electrified Porch Music, and "Mellow Tone" on Echo Echo. He even talks, in "Wolftrap and Fireflies," about how "The image sticks like glue to me," querying, "Is this to make some sense, some evening?." And while the sense is occasionally surreal in this album, when the images are juxtaposed in quick flashes, as on "For the Girl," the overall effect is thought-provoking, even when listeners have to think fast to keep up with it all. There's still places where a bit more work will help, as on "November (makebelieve)," where at the start, the instrumentals swallow up the vocals. Yet considering the work as a whole, the progress they've made since Meander is evident, and quite encouraging. So while this earlier work of Carbon Leaf's still had a few rough spots where a bit more polish would help, it's still an effective step on the journey as they grow into their full musical abilities. Fans will want a copy of this album to go along with Ether-Electrified Porch Music and Echo Echo. Keep an ear on Carbon Leaf -- they're creative, and they keep getting better.
AllMusic Review by Murrday Fisher