Review – Sons of Sylvia / “Revelation”

Review – Sons of Sylvia / “Revelation”

“Revelation” is the debut album from Sons of Silvia.  It’s a mix of musical styles, influences, and ideas that come together to create a unique, and yet comfortable blend. The album itself is hard to squeeze in to any one genre.  One good way to describe it (with a nod to the Bacon Brothers’ first album) is Forosoco – a mix of FOlk, ROck, SOul, and COuntry.  Another way to describe it – a damn good album.

I first discovered Sons of Sylvia before they were the Sons of Silvia.  If you know me, or have read my posts, you know that I’m a fan of reality TV.  In 2007, 19 Entertainment (the company behind “American Idol”) took a shot at creating a fall season music show to compliment the spring run of “American Idol”.  It was centered around bands and was, appropriately enough, entitled – “The Next Great American Band”.  The winners of that first, and only, season were a trio called The Clark Brothers.

(As an aside – the bands on the show got to perform both original and cover tunes.  The Clark Brothers originals were great – but their cover of “Gimme Shelter” is one of the best versions of that song I have ever heard.  It was raw, it was soulful, it was aggressive in the way it grabbed the audience, and wouldn’t let go.  Just to hear what Austin is able to do with the electric dobro – it’s amazing.  You owe it to yourself to watch if below.)

They never released an album after the show, and spend time working on other projects –  (If you watch the video for “I’ll Stand By You”, that Carrie Underwood shot for “Idol Gives Back” – Ashley is the fiddle player).  They renamed the band Sons of Sylvia in 2009.  They collaborated with Carrie Underwood on the song “What Can I Say” that year, and released released “Revelation” in April 2010.

The musicianship evident on the album is heartening.  From the sheer genius found in the dobro work from Austin, to the stellar mandolin work of Adam, to the vocal prowess shown by Ashley – this record is built with a craftsmanship you don’t see as much as you would like in the manufactured, bubblegum pop of today.  What I love most about it is that they were able to take instruments like the dobro, the mandolin, and the fiddle – and maintain the essence of where they came from, while updating the entire sound to something relevant to today.  It’s a sound I haven’t heard before, and I like it.

In interviews, the brothers have said that they came late to some of their more contemporary musical influences.  When listening to the album, as I have been doing all week, you can see some of those influences shine through.  Most notably, for me, are the reflections of early U2 that you can hear on the record.  You can hear it in the vocals on songs like “Give Me Love” and “Long Beach”.  The musical influence is all over the record, but nowhere more directly than on “The War Within” (Listen to that song and try not to think of “Bullet the Blue Sky” – I dare you).

I really like this album.  There are a few songs that I have a hard time reconciling with the overall feel of the record (songs like “50 Ways”) – but even those songs are well done, and I have so say – I do sing along with them.  I’m glad to see that Sons of Sylvia took their time and put out an album like this.  Will you hear that songs on the radio?  I’m not sure (but then again, the last time I really listened to the radio was 15 years ago…)  What I am sure of is that this is a great debut album with depth, soul, and heart.  It proves that you can stay true to your musical roots, and still evolve and grow.  It also proves that, in the right hands, the dobro, the mandolin, and the fiddle can rock.

John Wayne
The album starts off with a track that wants to fall more into the more traditional country category, but it quickly evolves into something a little more broad.  You begin to hear a little of that U2 influence as the song builds through each chorus, and Ashley shows that he has both power and range.  It’s a good way to start the album.

Love Left To Lose
This is the first single off of the album – and the song that many of you saw them perform on American Idol this season.  It’s got a driving, anthem-like feel that practically begs to be performed in a large concert hall.  If I have one complaint, it’s that that driving rhythm makes it a little hard to connect with the verses – they blend with the chorus a little too much.  There is a nice melodic break in the bridge – I wish that there were a little more of that in the verses.  Still, it was a good choice for the first single.

The title track from the album will be one of the more familiar feeling tracks to those that discovered the Clark Brothers on “The Next Great American Band”.  It’s a more stripped down feel – focusing more on the core trio, their instruments, and their voices.  It has powerful lyrics telling a story about making the most of the time you are given:

And I don’t know where I’m going,
but I know it’s going fast.
Love’s the only thing that’s keeping us alive.
Oh this is my, this is my, this is my, this is my – revelation.”

50 Ways
This is one of the songs that I have a hard time reconciling with the rest of the album.  To be sure – it’s a very catchy song.  It almost has an INXS vibe in places and definitely has a more pop oriented direction.  It’s not a bad song.  As I said before, it’s hard to listen to it and not sing along with the hook – “in the middle of a” (listen to the song, you’ll see what I mean).  It’s just a bit of a jarring change of pace, coming right after “Revelation”.

Song of Solomon
This song slows things back down a bit.  Fans of “Falling Slowly” from the film “Once” will find a familiar harbor here.  Adam’s mandolin work at the beginning gives the perfect reference point for rooting this song in the Sons of Sylvia sound.  The song builds upon a restrained verse; layering in strings, and culminating in a raw, emotion filled vocal before a truly power-ballad worthy electric dobro solo.  A very well constructed and executed song that should be picked up and used in a movie or movie trailer.

Give Me Love
Here again, you can hear the U2 influence.  This is a more straight forward, modern-rock / contemporary song.  It’s a bit more vanilla as far as the tone and the arrangement – you get drums, guitar, and vocals.  It’s a good song, but it didn’t stick with me the way some of the others did.

Ghost Town
This is another of the songs that I can’t quite reconcile.  It’s got a distinct dance vibe to it.  It still has a bit of a rock underpinning – but with the right remix, this song would be at home in any dance club.  (They even throw in a bit of Steve Miller Band keyboard effect towards the middle).  Again – it’s not a bad song, per se, but it’s my least favorite on the album.

Long Beach
I love the beginning of this song.  The slightly ethereal electric guitar blended with the dobro is magical.  Something about it makes me think of summer.  I’m not sure why; it’s not a “summer song” – but it’s got a clean, driving with the windows down on a summer night, kind of feel.  It’s also a great example of blending the current with the traditional.  The dobro sound compliments the driving guitar and drums of the chorus in a way that is both non-obvious and comfortable at the same time.

I’ll Know You
This song could be a bit hit if it is released as a single.  It’s very accessible for people of across a broad swath of musical tastes – with both a contemporary country flavor, and a dash of top 40 rock appeal as well.  It keeps taking me back to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”  – both the Aerosmith version and the Mark Chesnutt version.  It’s one of best songs on the album, and like “Song of Solomon”, would be right at home in a movie soundtrack.

The War Within
In this song, Sons of Silvia channel the soul of “Bullet the Blue Sky” from U2.  It’s impossible not to hear the echoes and influence of “The Joshua Tree” here, and it works incredibly well.  They manage to create a moody, compelling atmosphere throughout the track (also, in many ways, reminiscent of what they did with “Gimme Shelter”).  I think it’s the best electric dobro on the album – by far.  The voice over in the middle will be instantly familiar, in both tone and delivery, to anyone who grew up in the South and listened to sermons on the radio.  It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.  It puts an exclamation point on the entire effort, and stamps the record with Sons of Silva’s distinct voice.

Really Need to Know – (Amazon exclusive track)
This track is an exclusive  Amazon download.  It’s a shame that it was left off of the CD release – it’s one of the stronger songs in the collection.  It’s got the same swagger and attitude that you find in songs like “Undo It” by Carrie Underwood, and “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera.  I think it’s probably the best straight-up rock/pop song on the album, and unlike “Gimme Love” it really sticks with you.  I’ll bet it’s crowd favorite if they play it live.

It’s Only Love  – (iTunes Exclusive track)
This track is an exclusive iTunes download.  It’s not as strong as “Really Need to Know”, but still a good tune.  It has a little more modern rock/pop feel, laid down over a country spine.  The driving mandolin in the background keeps the pace moving forward to a very satisfying final refrain, where Ashley cuts loose a bit in his top register.

Hear The Angels Sing – (Napster Exclusive track)
This track is an exclusive Napster download.  The beginning of the song puts me in the mind of a “Deadwood” opening, but with a slightly more contemporary twist.  It has a distinct western flare, but with a flavor of “Rattle and Hum” as it builds.  I also love the story of the song.  You can either read it as the story of the Crucifixtion, or a story of comfort in times of pain.  Either way, it’s a powerful message.  I aslo LOVE the way Ashley cuts loose at the end of this one as well.  It very much reminds me of the intensity and abandom that he brought to the live performances on TNGAB.

© 2010, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.

3 Replies to “Review – Sons of Sylvia / “Revelation””

  1. Interesting review..thanks. I have this cd and LOVE it. Best cd I’ve bought in a long, long time. I hope they do make it onto the radio, as that’s where they’ll be able to make record sales (and ensure a long career). I’m looking forward to a lot more music from them. They’re SO talented and such a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter, over-produced, enhanced pop singers today.

    BTW, I LOVE 50 Ways and Ghost Town — 2 of my favorite songs on the cd.

  2. Like you, I first learned of the Clark brothers on The Next Greatest American Band. I was one of those people that voted them through to number one. I’ve waited a long time for this cd. It is everything I hoped for and more. I agree that the mix of instruments is unexpected and delightfully different. Ash’s vocal talent is impressive. Not many singers today put that much heart and soul into their lyrics. Most songs on the cd do have a message. I wouldn’t expect less from them, but even something like 50 Ways is so raw and catchy that it just proves what versatile artists they are. I hope this is just the beginning of so much more from them!!!!

  3. I have to admit, “50 Ways” and “Ghost Town” continue to grow on me. I still think they don’t fit as well on the album as some of the bonus tracks – but I do enjoy them.

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