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[Editor’s note: Please welcome our latest guest writer, Josh Shive. We’ve been pestering Josh to write for us for quite a while now and are delighted that our merciless pestering has finally paid off. You might recognize his last name, but then again, you might not. Either way, check out his review and welcome him to the Rabbit Room.]
“Clementine” by Carousel Rogues
When I was in high school, Sixpence None The Richer and Fleming and John were two of my favorite bands. In many ways, the groups could not have been more different from each other. Leigh Nash’s vocals were ethereal, angelic whispers; Fleming McWilliams’s sometimes sounded like they should have been delivered from a flying trapeze, for all of their emotional swings (sorry, folks, the jokes don’t get any better). Sixpence’s lyrics were introspective and poetic; F&J’s could be downright goofy. Matt Slocum played Fender guitars; John Mark Painter played Gibson guitars. (I could do this all day.)
For all of their differences, the two groups were alike where it mattered most. Each featured a strong female presence at the microphone, catchy melodies, and enough electric guitar candy to choke a sixteen year-old Josh Shive. This brings me to Carousel Rogues.
“I will still come home/’Cause I can’t leave well-enough alone,” Caitlin Nethery Anselmo confesses in “Fishtail,” the third track from Carousel Rogues’ self-titled debut. The album, a collection of gorgeously-arranged alternative rock and stargazing pop, explores the ways relationships bind and set us free. It’s easily the most promising debut I’ve heard all year.
In 2009, Caitlin, a graduate of Hood College’s music composition program, wrote a song inspired by Andrew Peterson’s book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. She sent the song to Andrew, who played it for Andy Gullahorn and Ben Shive (no relation to the author, except that Ben is my brother). Andy G. listened to Carousel Rogues’ demos on MySpace and suggested that Ben consider producing the band. Last year, the group (vocalist/guitarist Caitlin Nethery Anselmo, vocalist/guitarist Zach Anselmo, vocalist/keyboard player Dan Wiley, and drummer Patrick Fulford) recorded the album at home in Maryland with Ben at the controls. When members of Carousel Rogues visited Nashville last summer to record vocals, the band played a surprise set at a Square Peg Alliance show. They released the finished album in February 2011.
At the center of Carousel Rogues’ sound are the lead vocals and harmonies of Caitlin Nethery Anselmo and her husband, Zack Anselmo. Caitlin’s voice is expressive and powerful, with a warm, breathy tone that brightens as it enters its upper registers, as it does in “Little Ones.” Zach’s voice is lighter, an unassuming tenor with a natural falsetto that shines in “Chin Up” and “We Should Meet.”
The twelve songs on this record are handmade puzzle boxes, intricate constructions featuring melodic electric guitar work from the Anselmos and jigsaw-cut piano parts from Dan Wiley. In “Chin Up,” Zach’s strummed acoustic guitar rides shotgun to his voice on a past-midnight drive under a sky thick with stars and radio interference. “Little Boom Boom” is a musical infinite loop built on a repeating electric piano figure that dead-ends in a swirl of programmed drums and synthesizer-generated waves. In the album’s closer, an Eisley-meets-Fleming-and-John showstopper entitled “Little Ones,” drummer Justin Levy’s snare stutters until it reaches the chorus, a rambunctious groove that slows to take a breath at its midpoint before crashing ahead again. This is an album full of songs that reward repeated listens—hummable after the first play, eye-opening by the third.
One of the things I love most about the record is the interplay of Caitlin’s and Zach’s voices. I mentioned previously that the two are married; this record feels like the document of a new relationship, with all of its joys and complications. In “Clementine,” a slice of summertime power pop (complete with electric harpsichord), Caitlin and Zach trade lyrics until they end up finishing each other’s sentences. In the song’s second verse, the duo stand at a graveside and look forward to a restoration of relationships: “And there beside you I will rest, together-tethered/And from the dust, we’ll rise up free of blame.” Here’s wishing for many more years for Caitlin and Zach and many more records from Carousel Rogues.