Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we delve into Sonnet Cottage, an alternative indie folk outfit hailing from northern Virginia. They recently dropped their second studio endeavor, a wonderfully soothing little collection entitled ‘Half Written Story.’ The introspective, acoustic jaunt through catchy melodies and a powerful female vocalist is one of the most sublime efforts of 2015. Let’s dig right into it.
Vocalist Rachel Russell is the defining highlight of the entirety of ‘Half Written Story.’ The instrumentation backing her is simplistic and easy-going - soft string sections, subdued acoustic percussion, and plucked acoustic guitars craft a soundscape of remarkable tact. ‘This Time Around,’ the opener of the album, is also one of the best tunes of the bunch. It introduces as Russell as a versatile, but comfortable vocalist. Nothing on this album overreaches itself or feels out of place, which is certainly an admirable quality.
Now, an album that doesn't overextend its hand is typically a record that also plays it too safe. Sonnet Cottage does do this throughout their sophomore effort, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From the reverberated, dream-like pastures of ‘Not Enough’ to the classically-tinged ‘Rushing Past,’ the band manages to explore their musical tendencies without feeling too ‘safe.’ Goodness, I’d argue the latter track is actually more than a bit experimental, even toying with some jazz stylings.
‘Half Written Story,’ the epic title track, manages to break the band out of their acoustic singer songwriter-esque musings, digging deeper into that alternative indie influence they boast in their self-description. Tunes like ‘A Million Voices’ do this masterfully as well. Again, jazz influence is abundantly apparent. Sometimes, the line between accessible jazz and folk is blurred. Just look at the pinnacle Tom Waits record, ‘Closing Time.’ I’d argue it is sonically similar to Sonnet Cottage’s sound. When Waits recorded that record, he wanted to make a jazz album. He got lost in folk ideas, though, and the album is an odd, but massively satisfying hybrid of the two. That’s exactly what ‘Half Written Story’ is.
This isn’t an extended review, so I’m just dealing with the highlights of the eleven track collection. Thus, I’d like to close on some thoughts about ‘Scarborough Fair.’ Obviously, it’s a Simon and Garfunkel cover. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. A cover song of such a notable song can go so wrong in so many ways. Then, I heard the song. Man, it’s excellent. The female harmonies play it very true to form - there isn’t much of a deviation here between the cover and the original. That works, though, because you have two options when crafting a superb cover: pay homage through simplicity and faithfulness, or go out way into left field. Sonnet Cottage does the former well.
‘Half Written Story’ is a wonderful little record chock-full of compelling tunes that’ll have you humming them for weeks. The record does play it safe, but it does so in a manner that doesn’t necessarily make you anxious for change, or bored, for that matter. With that said, I’d stream the album and pick the songs you enjoy to download and buy. Chances are you may enjoy half the record and feel indifferent to the other half. It isn’t completely fluid in its quality, and it does meander. When it really sets itself to it, though, it kicks other acoustic-based indie acts to the curb.