Essentially the alter ego of frontman Anders Parker, Varnaline released three relatively well-respected albums on Zero Hour before the indie label went under. Fortunately, they were rescued from the ashes by longtime fan Steve Earle, who released this album on his label and co-mixed it with Twangtrust partner Ray Kennedy. Musically, the album is more of the same indie rock/alt-country blend, veering from the pastoral acoustic balladry of "Still Dream" to the dissonant noise of "Song" as if it were the most natural contrast in the world. Though Parker plays most of the instruments himself, contributions from Jud Ehrbar (drums, synths, vocals), Dean Jones (trombone, piano, vibes), and Anders' brother, John Parker (bass, pump organ), add some intriguing new dimensions to the Varnaline sound. But while Songs in a Northern Key achieves occasional moments of brilliance (see: "I Don't Want" and "Murder Crow"), it ultimately falls just short of being the classic album that one senses Anders Parker may have in him.
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AllMusic Review by Bret Love