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The Everybodyfields
Nothing Is Okay

Rating: 6.7/10 ?

January 24, 2008
With three albums already in the bag, the Everybodyfields possess the authentic country charm lacking in more familiar blue-collar music carpetbaggers from everywhere but the country (Jerry Jeff Walker from New York and Gillian Welch from LA). The oddly-named Everybodyfields' main songwriting tandem of Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee (pop. 60,000) whose traditional old-time musical history came to prominence during Columbia Records' Johnson City Sessions in 1928 (coming out party for star "Fiddlin' Charlie" Bowman). As the location of East Tennessee State University, the town also has a vibrant music scene in the here-and-now, highlighted by the free Blue Plum Festival hosted there since 2000.

Cutting their teeth in this musically nourishing atmosphere, Quinn and Andrews met at summer camp and found a commonality in their musical interests. Fast-forward a few years, and the band sounds just like you'd imagine, with their roots firmly planted in traditional music (perhaps minus the banjo). The duo makes use of restrained instrumentation, instead placing a strong emphasis on vocals, with harmonies and leads at the focus. Quinn's voice warbles and shakes with a soft country vibrato that makes him perpetually sound like he's on the verge of tears (but not quite there), while Andrews has a much more crystalline soprano, their voices blending to form a unique and affecting compound. Released on the band's debut Half-way There: Electricity and the South, Quinn's tune "T.V.A." poignantly chronicled the legendary post-depression public works project and as such was awarded a first place finish in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at the 2005 Merlefest.

Obviously the Everybodyfields didn't just fall off the turnip wagon, and I'll give them their two points for authentic roots and vocals, but when it comes to their third effort, Nothing Is Okay, the duo's songwriting doesn't quite live up to their pedigree. While playing in a band that consists of unamplified instruments and down-tempo country numbers can provide a non-stop highlight forum for songwriters, the drawback is that when things go awry the songs have nowhere to hide. When Quinn's unique warble trades off melody lines with slow fiddle notes on "Be Miner," his lyrics seem filled with the requisite sadness but fail to truly reach any sort of resolution: "I'm tired of driving it's too cold to cry/ I remember when it only cost a dime/ Dark clouds are circling / I'm a photograph tonight/ Shuffling papers and getting everything wrong/ I walk for hours, try not to feel alone." All gussied-up and ready to travel, the song never quite manages to leave the station, instead spinning its wheels and seemingly unsure of a destination or even a particular story to tell. Similarly, Quinn's other tunes lack the power of "T.V.A." or the more recent "Good to Be Home," one of the standouts from the band's sophomore release, Plague of Dreams.

Continuing with the band's fixation on loneliness, Andrews manages to inject a bit more energy in her compositions, which are comparatively up-tempo, thanks in large part to the subtle percussion. "Lonely Anywhere" builds to a relative crescendo, its sparse arrangement accented by vocal harmonies and the song's chorus plaintively blending Andrews and Quinn's voices in their collective crooning of "I can be lonely anywhere." Later, in "Leaving Today," Andrews employs a similar structure (down-tempo start, growing in dynamics and instrumental layering) in a tune that wastes as little time getting to its climax as a fifteen year-old at band camp. It feels like a distilled version of "Lonely Anywhere" and clocks in at about half the time.

While the band hasn't made many steps forward in their songwriting since Plague of Dreams, Nothing Is Okay is littered with hints of the bands potential. Andrews, in particular, contributes solid tunes that rescue the album from the sheer sense of unfocused, ambling melancholy. Contrarily, Quinn seems to have peaked a bit early with "T.V.A." and struggles to live up to that touching number with any sort of reliability. The Everybodyfields had a previous preoccupation with history, in the lived-in sense (as opposed to the more abstract history of, say, Josh Ritter's Peter and Paul chats in "Girl in the War"), but their latest album focuses more on the personal and in some ways is prone to let its songs flounder in abstractions. Tunes often lack a specific historical or geographical reference point, which may be par for the course for mop-topped hipsters from Brooklyn but feels weak in the Everybodyfields' down-home vein of songwriting. Nothing Is Okay also lacks punchy hooks, but that may go without saying for a couple of twangers from Johnson City, Tennessee.

This ain't indie-pop, so don't expect Nothing Is Okay's tunes to jump out at you. What you should expect, however, is a collection of stronger and far more poignant songwriting than what it delivers; the album's narratives sound less like the beautiful poetry of the band's two previous LPs and more like award winners phoning it in. It's as if this batch of songs were leftovers that should've stayed leftover. But hey, don't rule the Everybodyfields out - despite all Nothing Is Okay's shortcomings, the songwriters behind it have shown their beauty before: here's hoping they get out of this pothole for lucky record number four.

Reviewed by Jeff McMahon
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Jeff McMahon



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