The Head and the Heart (2011)

Spotify: The Head And The Heart – The Head and the Heart

Pitchfork: 3.8

Such nods to history and to hard labor are meant to give this album the sheen of authenticity, but it doesn’t take long to see through to the calculation beneath. Musically, the band’s old-time approximations resemble the Avett Brothers, but, without that group’s effortless harmonizing, easy melodicism, and demonstrative vocals, the Head and the Heart sound anonymous, their drama wholly predictable. Conceptually, they’re close to Mumford & Sons: opportunistic in their borrowings, yet entirely unimaginative in the execution. Theirs is a thoroughly timid, tentative take on Americana: roots music without the roots.

Consequence of Sound: 2/5

The Head and The Heart sounds like an album stripped from 2008, never once providing any sense of surprise or adding anything new to the folk genre. To make matters worse, most of the lyrics that pour out of the record sound half baked for a Grey’s Anatomy episode; they’re often too emotive or disarming, particularly the opening lines of “Down In The Valley”: “I wish I was a slave to an age-old trade/Like ridin’ around on railcars and workin’ long days.” No, the epic crescendo never comes. Yes, the album ends just as harmlessly as it began.

Although hopes were high and so much work went into the creation of the record, The Head and The Heart have ultimately created a debut that will most likely be forgotten by summer. Even as singers Jon Russell and Josiah Johnson’s voices flow together swimmingly over Charity Thielen’s violin, the album never truly succeeds at living up to its name. What does that say for the band’s name?

AVClub:  C-,54761/

Though the songwriting is sturdy, the choruses hearty, the melodies time-tested, and the recording vibrant, The Head And The Heart falters most on account of Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson’s pre-packaged, Cracker Barrel lyrical conceits. The fiddle-fortified travelogue “Down In The Valley” crams some of the most generic clichés into one tidy space, evoking “whiskey rivers,” railway cars, and an entirely appropriate “Lord have mercy.”

Sputnik Music:  3.5/5

But for every moment that The Head and the Heart breach the confines of tolerable twee, The Head and the Heart becomes a little less convincing. It’s this aforementioned blurry line that comes into focus every so often preventing the band’s nostalgic songwriting from being drop-dead brilliant. Until the band finds more than one lyrical subject matter and writes a song as good as ‘Cats and Dogs’ without dashing its chances with animal sounds, we’re left with a band still embracing the genre’s most bittersweet and common attribute: a touch too little head, a tad too much heart.


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