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Sugar Bayou

Nowhere But Gone (Vocalicon Records)

On paper, it would seem that the debut release from this Houston-based band would have a lot going for it. The fine amalgamation of singers and multi-instrumentalist pickers and pluckers includes the core trio of singer-guitarist Bob Oldreive, fiddler-guitarist Joe Lindley and singer-guitarist April Rapier.

No, the biggest problem with Nowhere But Gone lies squarely with the material, mostly penned by Oldreive with assists from Rapier and Lindley. A collection of mostly listless, overpolite and monotonously tempoed songs sung through the gauzy lens covering you see on Hallmark card commercials, they are flatly uninspiring. Though Rapier sings like a huskier-voiced Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lindley's instrumental work in general is fine, most of these songs, like "In the Middle of Your Heart," "To Have and to Hold" and "With Love Again," are embarrassments in terms of arrangements and lyrics and not even fit to be called MOR. And though the band infuses elements of country, Celtic, Cajun, bluegrass and folk, what we end up with is a mushy, bland stew in desperate need of a shot of hot sauce.

There are a few numbers that show directions the group could (and should) have taken. Rapier delivers a jazzy lead vocal on the title track, her voice weaving in and out with some fine fiddle work. "Carolina Wind" has the best harmonies, and "Sometimes," with its peppy and hooky call to kick up your heels, sounds downright anarchic when compared to the rest of the staid material.

But Nowhere But Gone lacks any real sense of musical passion. It seems this band is actually less than the sum of its parts. Reportedly their live show is much more engaging, but on disc, Sugar Bayou's waters run placid and sticky sweet.

 
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