The Small Cities follow their well-received EP debut, The Small Cities, with the full-length With Fire (Princess Records).
The songwriting—mellow rock with an edge to it—is uneven, hitting incredible peaks, slumping at times to pedestrian. The band’s chops, though, consistently kill, including the songs that don’t work, are beautifully produced by Bmoen. There’s a great deal of potential in With Fire. Some of it realized to a tantalizing degree. For instance, “Abraham” and “Home Is Where The Start Is” start things off in a one-two punch that captures your attention right away. They’re both superior, upbeat ballads as suitable to the dance floor as they are to simply hanging around the house, lifting a glass or lighting a bowl and letting them take you into a real relaxed space where you’re content to tap your foot and nod your head along ‘til the cows come home. “Wonder Years” is the same bag, just a bit subdued, strong but subtle. It’d make an excellent single, having radio airplay stamped all over it thanks to a brilliant arrangement.
On the other hand, “Wise Blood” squanders a rousing, funk-tight intro, following it up with artless whining set to a clutter of faux rock. “Hospital” is just plain trite, the only real gaff in the songwriting, marred by self-sorry lyrics (the one song you can hear the words to is a clunky rant from a guy whose busier having a temper tantrum than he is actually worrying about his buddy who’s laid up on an emergency room ward).
The package doesn’t have a lyric sheet (in fact, there’re no songwriting credits). Who’d care except the bits and pieces you can make out are interesting, like, from “Laughter Song,” you’ve got anthemic music evoking strong feeling. And lines like, “It wasn’t a complete disaster…” followed by words you can’t figure out except for “fits of laughter.” You stay with the song, anyway, because it’s got fine, lilting vocals sung over driving drums that could punch a hole in a brick wall and some very smart, lyrical guitar work.
The personnel are Wes Burdine on guitar, keys and vocals, Jimmy Osterhold on bass, Leif Bjornson on vocals and guitar and David Osborn on vocals and drums, collection of very gifted cats. Ultimately, With Fire is well worth taking off the shelf and bringing home with you. Just don’t expect perfection.