The Stands- All Years Leaving (Echo Recordings UK, 2004)
The warm and keening voice, it’s between Lucinda Williams and Neil Young, and sounds so comfortable in the female register above those darling harmonies and jangling Byrds acoustics, I wouldn’t believe you if you told me it was a man.
But there, in the liner notes, is the name Howie Payne, and the photograph on the inside certainly looks like a man. Ah well. So it goes.
His voice certainly is the first thing that you would notice, with its laconic pacing and easy California virtues. Sure, Payne may be from the UK, but his voice isn’t.
And neither is the band, you know, aside from that geography that tethers them (and makes us unlikely to ever see ‘em here in the States— how I got sent this album, I’ll never know). The arrangements are too warm and tightly layered, with the acoustic guitars left to reverberate over an unobtrusive rhythm section. The deft arrangements, dappled with snippets of tinkling bells or brisk banjos, give mid-tempo songs depth and all the hooks they write or steal are good ones.
When the Stands are at their best, they’re riding that beautiful fullness of California country pop, comfortable as sandals, like on the title track or album opener “I’ve Waited So Long.” Equally comfortable sounding like the Arcade Fire on “All Years Leaving” as they are sounding like Paisley Underground band Optic Nerve on “When This River Rolls Over You,” the Stands don’t necessarily have to stand out to sound good.
Occasionally, they try to get too much out of a mid-tempo drag and end up making songs like “It’s Only Everything” into Joan Osborne-style slogs, but those are the exceptions, and only really serve to emphasize that the band is more fun to listen to when they don’t bother being ponderous.
Still, All Years Leaving is mellow and pretty, like a sunrise on Vicodin. Radiant, warm and woozy, and a good way to start the day.
(Bonus mp3=The Love You Give)