All Years Leaving
espite coming from the other side of the Atlantic, the Stands make music firmly rooted in American soil. Led by songwriter Howie Payne, the group takes its inspiration from groups like the Byrds and the Band, sounding like a less harmonic version of the Jayhawks. For all the steadiness in their performances on All Years Leaving, though, it boils down to whether or not you can take them on these traditional terms.
Before anyone gets down to accusing them of being too focused on one musical thread, we should recognize that they can also do their own thing. Single "Here She Comes Again" starts out dangerously by stealing one line of lyric and melody from the Cars, but shoots off on its own path, adding a poppier tone to a mostly country-rock album. The next track, "The Big Parade" also avoids cliché. On this piece—as on the penultimate "Some Weekend Night"—the group stays within the folk genre, but adds a tinge of dark experimentalism, sounding more like the Coral. The most unique track closes the album, and it's worth sticking around for. "The Way She Does" is a psychedelically tinged that doesn’t sacrifice the rock for jazz complexity, despite being in 5/4 time.
While the band occasionally deviates from its main focus, it mostly relies on the tried-and-true. If you've ever heard a Byrds album or Dylan at his most country, you've taken care of about 2/3 of All Years Leaving. Even so, the group is appealing because of the way they perform the material. The Stands make sure every note fits in, wasting neither time nor sound in crafting their tight music. The vocalists are also capable of some lovely harmonies, but unfortunately the production too often buries the back-up vocalists in the mix. Payne produced the album himself, so there's a troubling aspect to the disappearance of the other singers. His choice allows the music to take the spotlight, but he could put more of his own group's stamp on the music if he let the other voices have their say.
As it stands now, All Years Leaving collects plenty of derivative (but enjoyable) music with a few bright moments of originality. As it also stands, All Years Leaving collects a dozen well-done songs that do their tradition proud. We can only hope that the Stands learn how to resolve those statements before making their next album.