Bringing together Boston musician Seth Freeman (previously of Little John) and songwriter/engineer Dan O’Leary, this debut release by Still Spark is a sum of many influences. Across ten cuts, the duo – augmented by several session musicians – deliver moments of power pop, straight up adult rock/pop and occasional rootsy numbers. While it promises a great deal, unfortunately their slightly sporadic mix of styles doesn’t always hit the mark.
‘Love Comes Calling’ is upbeat and summery, with chiming guitars, handclaps and quirky harmony vocals. It makes a decent opening number and lead single with its feel-good nature, but misses out slightly due to a slightly wobbly lead vocal. His untrained vocal style kills most of the spirit during ‘Caroline’, despite the musical having some decent moments (which once again, are delivered to the listener by way of chiming guitars and sunny vibes). ‘The Way I Am’ starts out in a similarly punchy power pop mood, driven by Cars-esque staccato rhythms and big chords, but once you’re convinced we’re headed for an equally big chorus and key change, it softens and wanders into jangle-pop territory, with the electric riff complimented by acoustic guitar work. The chorus itself isn’t far off being a one-liner, sadly, but some good backing harmonies go some way to making it memorable.
The gentle acoustic vibes and the wordiness at the heart of ‘Still On Your Side’ seems far better suited to the slightly drawly vocal. Once the backing vocal harmonies are added alongside a few guitar flourishes, it provides one of the moments where Still Spark shine a little brighter; but as before, when Freeman attempts to hit bigger notes, things fall more than a little flat. The Gin Blossoms styled jangle-pop of ‘Best Times’ features some excellent ringing guitar work and pleasing harmonies, pulled together with a great hook. Topped off with a slightly raucous solo, it’s a track which clearly presents Still Spark in good form.
Over the course of the last few tracks, there’s a definite upturn in the album’s fortunes. The doo-wop meets power pop of ‘Careless Thing’ is, without question, the album’s best number. What could have been a typically flat vocal is given a boost by a female lead courtesy of Gaby Moreno, whose slightly quirky, expressive voice is given a chance to really shine when accompanied by sharp guitar chords and an upfront bass. The chiming guitars opening ‘Good Woman’ at first lead the listener into thinking we’re headed for Teenage Fanclub/Big Star territory, but soon, the grooves recall The Connells in a rather chipper mood. A few layered harmony vocals on the chorus pick things up even further, creating a track that’s nothing short of being a three minute ray of sunshine. It’s a great pity Still Spark couldn’t have tapped into this feel-good style a little more often.
The mid-paced ‘The Limelight’ showcases simple rhythms and a natural sounding vocal, augmented by some clean toned electric guitar fills, presenting Still Spark in a relaxed mood which evokes The Jayhawks. It’s a great way to finish the disc, leaving the listener with a strong memory of Still Spark in good form. The female backing vocals are slightly overdone (maybe even unnecessary), but do nothing to spoil what’s essentially a great roots-rock number.
With this self-titled disc, Still Spark have delivered a release that’s not always rootsy enough to deserve the roots rock tag, and with regards to occasional their power pop tendencies, these are often not quite breezy enough to hit their stride with the devastating effect deserved. However, as evidenced on the last few tracks, it’s not a release without merit. With regards to the lesser moments, even when the material doesn’t always work as well as you’d hope, Kay Hanley’s production brings a great sound. Worth checking out for a couple of tracks, but listening is certainly advised before making a purchase.