The La La Crutch

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It's unfair to leap to the obvious comparisons here -- those would be Ben Folds Five and Joe Jackson, by the way -- simply because Sparkwood is a power pop band that's piano-driven. For the most part, this Austin foursome is quite capable of standing on its own merits. First of all, the group's self-released debut CD, The La La Crutch, sports impressively clean production. And second, Bart Padar has the songs and the voice to match. While piano-based pop does form the basis of much of the material (the band cites Billy Joel, Ben Folds Five, and Queen as influences), Sparkwood doesn't sit still for long, tossing in occasional horns, Wurlitzers, and accordions. So while there's plenty of lovably goofy piano-based pop here, there are also some crunchy guitar rockers (the fabulous "Marianne"), gorgeous pop ("Wonderin' Why"), an Eastern European-flavored tune ("Cockroach Stomp"), and a closing epic ("Weeks Gone By"). The latter is really three tracks -- two of them "hidden" -- and, while such things have stopped being cute, Sparkwood does manage to pull it off, making it feel like a mini song cycle. The La La Crutch is not impeccable -- some of the songs are a little undistinguished and the album is a bit long -- but for the most part this is a very solid debut.

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