Between the string-band revivalists, alt-country troubadours, and groups like the Avett Brothers seeping out of every speaker from here to creation, the world of Americana music is one that has grown a bit saturated, to say the least. River City Extension, however, is one group that rises above the current clutter of acoustic guitars and broken hearts with the release of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger, a beautiful collection of songs that manages to sound both authentic and modern.
The songwriting on the New Jersey octet’s latest stands well above that of the current crop of hipsters in bolos. From lyrical content that bares quite a bit of lead singer/principle songwriter Joe Michelini’s more introspective moments, to unexpected melodic choices and elegantly tweaked organic sounds, the album’s 14 tracks boast sounds that envelope the listener within a grand, Mike Mogis-esque production. Little touches, like the pedal-steel flourishes and picture-perfect female harmonies on “Slander” or the unobtrusive placement of the string arrangements supporting the track “Ballad of Oregon”, accentuate the group’s expertly arranged songs. Yet the decorations never get in the way of the songs themselves, and the band still manages to yield an intimate sonic space for Michelini’s dynamic vocals to occupy amid the layered lushness.
The sparse arrangement Michelini and co offer up on “Golden Tongue (Thanatopsis)” — heartfelt and remorseful vocals supported only by an acoustic guitar — serves as soft punctuation to the more grandiose arrangements of the other songs, and is as moving as anything else on the album. “Golden Tongue” only exaggerates the dynamic quality of the album with its placement immediately preceding the building crescendo of “There and Back Again”.
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Your Anger represents a band that works well in a range of different styles, all distinctly American, from the indie-romp of “Welcome to Pittsburgh” to the authentic country of “Slander”. It’s a lush effort with lyrical content that’s both honest and relatable — a real winner in its genre.
Essential Tracks: “Slander”, “Ballad of Oregon”, and “There and Back Again”