Martin Carr

The Breaks

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When the Boo Radleys crashed and burned in the late '90s, Martin Carr didn't stop writing and recording music. He came right back with the adventurous Brave Captain and kept releasing songs and albums right up until 2012, when he switched over to using his name instead. The first album to come out this way is 2014's The Breaks, and it's a good one. Where Carr sometimes strayed far from his strengths as a guitar pop craftsman to indulge in electronic dabblings and folky meanderings, here he mostly sticks to songs that would have fit right in with the Boos at the top of their game. In fact, if he had managed to get the band back together and had released this as a Boo Radleys album, people would have gone nuts. As it is, it's a welcome return for Carr that shows how fun and powerful his music is when it's focused and direct. Not to disparage the experiments and side roads he went down with Brave Captain, because he consistently came up with interesting albums. It's just nice to hear Carr the straight-ahead pop writer again. The uptempo songs are the ones that hit immediately: the one-two punch of "The Santa Fe Railway" and "St. Peter in Chains" is reminiscent of the two brightest songs from Wake Up! ("It's Lulu" and the title track), "Mandy Get Your Mello On" is a bouncy treat for fans of silly pop songs, and "Senseless Apprentice" is a Beatles-meets-Byrds guitar workout. Then the midtempo tracks begin to sink in and make a deep impression. The wonderfully sad minor-key weeper "Mountains" sounds like something Del Shannon could have made his own, "I Don't Think I'll Make It" has a lilting melancholy and some fun synths, and a couple acoustic ballads ("Sometimes It Pours" and the title track) all show that Carr is equally adept at capturing quieter moments. In both cases, the instrumentation is spot-on, as he fills in the backgrounds with guitars, vocal harmonies, and keys like a master painter, never wasting a stroke. And though he'll forever be dogged by comparisons to Sice's angelic tones, Carr is a far better vocalist than he's given credit for, displaying a light touch on the rockers and a winning winsome quality on the ballads. The only song that falls short is the political folk ballad "No Money in My Pocket," which sounds predictably pretty, but is sunk by its length and Carr's naive lyrics. Otherwise, the album is very strong and showcases Carr's talent in the best possible way. It's not a new Boo Radleys album, but that might be too much to expect anyway. It's enough that The Breaks is a great Martin Carr record.

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