The Whale

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With its melancholic mood and tasteful (if not somewhat restrained) performances, Cheyenne's full-length debut was a quiet affair, faring much better as bedroom background music than something to be blasted from car stereos. In the two years that followed, however, frontman Beau Jennings re-thought his approach, eventually deciding to relocate to Brooklyn from Oklahoma and replace his backing band -- once a rotating cast of friends and area musicians -- with a permanent lineup. The Whale is Cheyenne's first effort as an actual band; Jennings is still calling most of the shots here, but his songs are tighter, smarter, and altogether better when they're molded and performed by the same group of players. Particularly notable is the addition of guitarist Josh Harper, whose layers of distortion and atmospheric guitar chords add dimension -- not to mention a healthy bit of indie cred -- to Cheyenne's expanding sound. The title track (arguably the album's highlight) jumpstarts the disc with stomping percussion, a cyclical piano riff, and handclaps, and the rest of The Whale follows suit, sticking closer to an upbeat mix of indie rock and neo-Americana than the lo-fi confessionals of Jennings' past. The move to Brooklyn has clearly done the frontman well; he sounds inspired by his new urban life, the increased activity, the constant goings-on. But for all that Eastern energy, there's still something decidedly Midwestern about Cheyenne. The lyrics brim with pastoral images -- blood-red rivers, painted horses, cotton -- and tracks like "Cimarron River" are frank, bold-voiced bits of folksy country. Elsewhere, Cheyenne hints at a heavy Tom Petty influence, especially during the chorus of "Big Weather." There's pedal steel here, as well honky tonk piano and twangy, messy harmonies. As a result, The Whale accomplishes exactly what it should, bridging the gap between Jennings' time in the dusty Bible Belt and his subsequent move to hipper and louder environs.

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