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CD REVIEW: CC Railroad - "Smile Whatever"
By David Lockeretz - 07/17/2002 - 11:02 PM EDT

Artist: CC Railroad
Album: "Smile Whatever"
CD Review: According to their website, this quartet formed in response to popular demand at a New York City open-mic event. Indeed, the band's introspective folk-rock seems to take its roots in the tradition of the Greenwich Village scene; it also evokes the sounds of other modern troubadors such as the Jayhawks and Cheryl Wheeler.

The strengths of this disc are tight vocal harmonies on catch melodies, lyrics that are well-crafted without being cute or too glib (the rather naive "Fly" is an exception) and use of cello, mandolin, djembe and dumbek in addition to the acoustic guitars (including 12-string) and standard rock instrumentation.

There are some things too, however, that have to happen for this band to achieve status as one of the best in their field. While all of the singers are competent, having the band switch off vocals on different songs gives the disc an inconsistent sound. Sorry, guys, but you're not the Beatles. Rich Boniface is the most expressive singer in the band. His energy and chick-chasing verve on "Little Red Riding Hood (Wore Black) and "Up For Nights" is starkly contrasted by his plaintive tone on "Ocean of Love" (a beautiful song whose cliche title does not do it justice.)

The presence of drums and electric bass on some of the songs helps them stand out; it also makes the other songs feel as if they are missing something. Compositionally, some of the songs fall a little flat: "I'll Explain" doesn't have a strong enough groove or hook to lead off the album; "Shakespeare in Prose" doesn't maintain enough musical interest to match its lyrics and "Long Time Gone", despite an interesting, almost Irish-influenced feel, isn't developed enough. But when the stronger songs are playing, I can almost imagine myself at a coffee house watching these guys, or hanging out with them in a log cabin in the Appalachians.

These are well-written songs that prove that there is still a place for subtlety and understatement. C.C. Railroad has a little tweaking to do, but with a little work and luck, they should be taking the express to national status.


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