It has to be hard for a St. Louis-based alt-country band led by a throaty lead singer to escape the shadow of Son Volt. Marc Chechik's outfit Melody Den labors squarely in the alt-country tradition, and while few can match Jay Farrar's vocal gravitas or lyrical density, the band gives it an honest shot by combining broke-down desolation and fist-swinging righteousness. Co-produced by Joe McMahan and longtime RFT contributor Roy Kasten, the record conveys the intimacy of a living-room performance by keeping Chechik's Marlboro-stung voice at the forefront on the quieter tracks. The rest of the songs motor along with a bar band's enthusiasm, shaking with Telecaster twang and no shortage of vocal grit. The guitars strum along in time, and every so often a reverberating solo cuts through the middle. But this is a songwriter's record and in keeping with the genre, Chechik sings his lyrics with more conviction than grace. It's a style that suits these earthy, weathered songs.
The ten tracks on Melody Den touch on broken love, long roads and mid-life revelations. The lyrics veer towards cliché a little too often, but Chechik can occasionally salvage the lyric and spin it into something lovely or poignant. "Twenty Miles" finds a doomed couple approaching their relationship's end in the prison of a road-tripping car, and the isolation and desperation of the story is reflected in the sparseness of the instrumentation. The band handles the rockers as well as the ballads; "Save Your Sermons" rocks with a sinister, snearing edge, while "Let Me Sleep" changes the mood with a guitar-pickin', floor-stompin' blues tempo. Melody Den gives a varied tour of Americana's back roads though like a ride through the Kansas cornfields, you'll swear you've seen the sights somewhere before.
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