The Nonchalants,
Drive
(Found Dog, 1999)

Drive, by the Nonchalants, isn't what I thought it would be. I've been listening to this album for so long now I don't remember what I thought it would be, but that's OK. What it is just happens to be very, very good.

I find the album to be non-obtrusive, non-invasive and non-threatening, slipping very easily into the background. That sounds worse than it actually is supposed to -- I'm not saying it is bland or anything like that. It is wonderfully listen-to-able.

The band, based in Austin, Texas, is Jean Synodinos and Steve Uhler, both of whom sing and play guitar. Jean supplies most of the vocals with a clear voice that has a slight infectious warble to it. I've spent many an hour trying to place her voice, and haven't come up with much. Very Melissa Etheridge, without the raspiness -- almost. It is very difficult to compare her vocal style to anyone, really.

Steve provides some vocals as well, such as on "My Baby Ain't Got No Money," which is a song that cannot avoid its subtle bluesy undertones. (Of course, being from Austin, a band cannot avoid having bluesy undertones.) But this is in no way a blues album. What is it? It's got a vein of country running through it and a sweet folky atmosphere, yet it is very definitely rock 'n; roll. Very few people are producing music like this right now.

Beyond being two guitarists, the Nonchalants also have guest musicians to round out their sound. Glenn Kawamoto and Paul Pearcy add bass and the drums and percussion on all songs. (Gotta mention it now, the great bass licks in "Close At Hand" work, Glenn -- love the fretless.) There are other musicians who also add various instruments throughout.

I really enjoy this album. You know that there are recordings out there that, when you put them on, either interrupt conversations because they are intrusive, or stop the conversation because people are listening to them. This is not one of those albums. This is something that can be put on as "background music" but is also something you can also sing along to. This is an amazing achievement as I can only think of a couple of other artists still recording who can do that.

I am not surprised at all that this is not their debut recording. It does have a bit of age to it, by which I mean it is experienced and well-versed lyric-wise and production-wise.

This album cannot be boxed into one category. I struggled with this earlier in this review. The guitar work is beautiful, the harmonies do wonders and the range is perfect. By range, I mean ... well, here's an example: the song "Ladies & Cowboys" is definitely a country song; however, the next track, "Best Not Call Me Ma'am," is a rocking blues song. It's this diversity that makes the album so listenable, and it could easily find a home on almost any genre radio station. Drive has some surprises and very few down points -- as in I don't think I can find one right now.

All in all, I very much enjoy this CD. And, if you want a second opinion, everyone I've played it for says it's got a good sound.

If the Nonchalants tour the southeast U.S., I'll be sure to be there.

[ by Stan Cocheo ]



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