Like many who have discovered the Pacific Northwest’s The Head and the Heart, I came by the band via their song “Rivers and Roads”. It’s such a beautiful slice of modern folk balladry that one can’t help but take notice. The band’s name has spread like wildfire as their self-released debut lit a flame in the Seattle area. Enter Sub Pop and a re-release, and you’ve got a bona fide independent success story.
However, it’s hard to miss the lukewarm reviews of The Head and the Heart’s self-titled debut. Folks have referred to this album as lackluster and too slick to be true Americana. As I heard about The Head and The Heart while listening to The Head and The Heart, I wondered if those naysayers were listening to the same collection of lovely folk-pop songs. While I find the collection of 10 songs here more breezy California pop than Americana, I can’t deny that these are some catchy, catchy tunes.
I’d surely agree with anyone who claims The Head and The Heart aren’t overtly innovative – I’ve certainly heard similar music done just as well. But not everyone needs to find some shred of land not yet tread upon. Yet when Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson (both providing vocals, guitar) sing one can’t help but sing along. Charity Thielan (violin, vocals) also provides some of the more haunting vocal moments on The Head and The Heart, especially the aforementioned “Rivers and Roads”.
Like many folk-pop outfits, there’s a little bit of everything thrown in the mix stylistically. The band tackles gospel with “Sounds Like Hallelujah” and “Heaven Go Easy on Me” as well as more straightforward pop on “Honey Come Home” and “Cats and Dogs”. While “Rivers and Roads” is certainly a great introduction to the band, it’s these more upbeat numbers – including “Ghosts” and its wonderfully bouncy piano work – that craft The Head and The Heart into an album worthy of many repeated listens. If well-crafted folk-pop leaves you feeling lukewarm, by all means join the naysayers; otherwise, I’ll be on the side of those dancing and singing along.