Without thinking too hard about why the hell this bears mentioning, try not to be thrown off by the whole “(word) the (noun)” band name thing. Cuff the Duke deserve their day in court before being offhandedly lumped in with your Said the Whales, Cage the Elephants, or Young the Giants. On their sixth LP, the Toronto alt-country outfit scores beautifully with a plugged-in spin-off of their previous album, the more acoustic Morning Comes, written at the same time as Union and intended as its counterpart. It’s a little bit Jayhawks, a little bit Bob Mould, and a whole lot of gentle ‘90s alt breeze.
Union’s production and technical minutiae are immaculate, but as always, those are checks that bounce without the song ideas to cash them. Of course, one way a band can position itself for a properly inspired effort is to have a recently married frontman, which Wayne Petti became last February. The ringing piano of “All I Want” and blurry guitar of “Open Your Mind” are just two lovely details that would do Jay Bennett proud, but far more important is how they underscore Petti’s consistently big-hearted hooks. The nutshell factoid to Union might even be how its most effective lyric somehow looks a whole lot less impressive on paper: “Stay with me tonight/ So I can hold you in the morning light,” chorus of “Stay”.
Does all this make Union “easy listening”, “dad rock”, or “adult contemporary”? Probably. Trite, recycled, and lifeless? Not necessarily. In the belly of Union are genuine, unspoken feelings expressed through a medium refined long ago by Cuff the Duke’s aforementioned forebears, and not fantasies of simply sounding like those artists.
Essential tracks: “Stay”, “Something for Free”