On its latest full-length, the Educated Guess takes some of the grandiosity that made last year's Beautiful Strangers such a delight and infuses its music with equal parts classic pop and rootsy Americana. This time around, the band's use of Springsteenisms — the Telecaster twang, the twinkly grand piano, the "tramps like us" determination — fits nicely with singer and pianist Charlie Brumley's distinct but limited voice. Brumley has always been more of an arranger than a songwriter — his records feel like film scores or (gasp!) concept records — but on Drive he toes the line with ambitious but earthy instrumentation. "Native Son" comes across like a ramped-up Calexico song, and "Hero Complex" swirls with trumpet flourishes and urgent strings while fervent drums and beefy organ chords fill in the blanks. Occasionally the arrangements come off as a bit overwrought, a little more Jim Steinman than Phil Spector, but Brumley rarely loses control of the reigns.
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