Imagine this situation: you walk into a café or a hole-in-the-wall bar and there’s a small acoustic group playing, on a small stage or, more likely, over to one side or maybe even just around a table. They sound nice but you don’t pay much attention. But as you enjoy your coffee or beer, you start to listen more closely and realize they’re good: voices harmonize sweetly, the instruments are played at just the right volume and tempo, the songwriting is strong.
I get that same feeling listening to Come Back to Us, a side/solo project from Rogue Wave’s Zach Rogue under the name Release the Sunbird. It’s quiet and acoustic, and while it breaks no new ground (I’m not sure it’s even possible anymore to create truly new music that’s not unlistenable), it is sweet, soft and perfectly executed.
My favorite track is “A New You” with ethereal vocals and a acoustic strum chiming up the neck of the guitar. “Why Can’t You Look at Yourself?” features similarly delicate background vocals as moves in waltz time. And the opening tune, “It’s All Around You” (one of the more involved and faster tracks) is very catchy, a simple repeated organ figure holding it together.
I love the care taken in accenting the tracks. I’ve always had an ear for subtle background touches and Rogue has done a superb job here. We’re talking extremely subtle (like I’m not sure anyone other than a few music geeks would pick this up), like the low rumble of a bowed double-bass in “Always Like the Son,” the sprightly scraped percussion in “Best Thing for Me,” the Caribbean accents (is that a kettle drum?) in “Come Back to Us,” or what sounds like a Theremin in “Paper Allies.” These are not huge innovations, just small idiosyncrasies that provide character and lift the music to a different plane. They help with the fact that there isn’t a ton of variety in the songwriting over the course of the album’s 14 cuts.
This is an lovely, intimate album (I realize I overuse the word “lovely” in my reviews, but it captures a certain feel so well). Thank God there’s still room for thoughtful music like this.