Nourallah Brothers – S/T

Although it would almost seem self-evident that you shouldn’t mix the complexities of family with art and business, musicians have often gone against this conventional wisdom and paid the consequences. From Bill Monroe’s fallout with his brother Charlie to the constantly quarreling Gallagher brothers, something about the unique dynamic doesn’t seem to lend itself to much long-term stability. It’s hard enough to keep a family together without adding the extra stress of that kind of endeavor. And even if it’s often a given that brother or family groups will have obvious benefits such as natural harmonies that will give their music a unique quality, it ultimately seems that too many theoretical spheres are involved to allow the collaboration to last very long before going down in flames. Whatever the case, the debut by brothers Faris and Salim Nourallah makes one hope that they can delay the inevitable for a few more years.
Drawing from the various streams of melodic rock songcraft since the British Invasion, the Nourallahs cast themselves as truly first-rate tunesmiths with these 18 tracks. Salim Nourallah might just have the most Jeff Tweedy-like voice of all the hordes of musicians currently carrying a slightly raspy croon. In fact, the skeletal guitar leads and eerie keyboards of the opening “Those Days Are Gone” and the lo-fi roller-rink rock of “Heaven is the Day” could convincingly be passed off as Wilco demos without much trouble. Faris recalls Ray Davies, both with his voice and the wistfully nostalgic bend of his lyrics in tracks like “Christmastime” and the Elliott Smith-ish “I’ll Be Around.” Toss in a bit of the Beatles and a touch of the Pernice Brothers, and you pretty much have all the elements that comprise these songs.
Still, to say that the Nourallahs are derivative and dismiss them would be to miss out on some truly exceptional songwriting. The delicately chiming “A Morning Cigarette” features all the perfect brotherly harmonies, haunted melodies, and layers of textures that are the hallmarks of great pop songcraft. Further, the simple piano intro and swelling levels of ringing keyboards and rolling drums of “Down” and the darkly lilting finger-picked acoustic guitar of “Missing You” rank as similar high marks. Strangely, the spirit of the songwriting seems to be centered from their Texas home, landing somewhere in England circa 1966. The almost unbearable whimsy of tracks like very Who-ish “Public School” (with a repeated refrain of “Ooh, I love my public school”) drive home this point. Of course, with 18 tracks in tow, retaining both balance and consistent innovation becomes a tenuous proposition. On this end, they don’t fare quite as well, as the songs grow a bit similar by the end, melding into an altogether pleasant collection of synthy pop songs that would be better served with slightly different arrangements.
Overall, they might have been well advised to whittle down a few of the weaker tracks from the 18 they recorded. That they maintained their momentum for as long as they did is impressive. Obviously, the next task for artists in their place is to move past writing great songs that sort of sound like other great songs and start writing songs that are undeniably the product of their unique talents. Lucky for them, few artists working in the realm of rock songcraft have as firm a grasp on memorable and instantly accessible melody, making the likelihood that innovation will be given the chance to flourish when inspiration strikes. Let’s just hope they can get along long enough to deliver the magnum opus that should be arriving about two albums down the road.