Solomon’s Seal | The Sea, The Sea (s/r)

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On his solo debut, Minibar's Simon Petty aims for the barren melodies of English folk, building most songs out of gently plucked acoustic guitars and lyrics that drip with introspective detail.




Simon Petty is one independent-minded guy. When his band, the California-based English quartet Minibar, was unceremoniously dumped by Universal, the breathy-voiced frontman countered with a pair of self-released albums. In the wake of the band's finale, the phenomenal roots rock record Desert After Rain, Petty became even more independent, dumping his bandmates in favor of the solitude of a solo album, recorded under the moniker Solomon's Seal.

On his solo debut The Sea, The Sea, Petty aims for the barren melodies of English folk, building most songs out of gently plucked acoustic guitars and lyrics that drip with introspective detail. The album works its way through its most ornate tracks up front, starting with "Solomon's Suite," an eerily atmospheric instrumental that conjures up pictures of an empty beach on an overcast day. It bleeds into "A Trick of the Light," whose down-tempo piano is equal parts jaunty and haunting as Petty tells a forgotten lover he's "not really gone / It's just a trick of the light."

Petty once again plays to his cinematic strengths on "Sleeping in the Car" ("It's raining like it only ever rains on film"), but with his voice and a John Denver-ish guitar buried under a layer of echo as if heard through a crackly old phone. It's more atmosphere than song until it bursts to life at the two-and-a-half minute mark, when the smoke clears away and the ballad begins boiling over with emotion like Joshua Tree-era U2.

From there, things get much sparser, with producer Seth Rothschild leaving Petty's voice and guitar more or less unadorned for much of the rest of the album. Sometimes it works, as on "State of the Union Address," a lush ballad in the tradition of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon," or the gorgeous "In the Strings," where a few well-placed strings wrap around Petty's voice like a warm blanket. But the open space puts Petty's lyrics center stage, making his occasional clunkers stand out like a sore thumb. Case in point, "Murder of Crows" is loaded down with simplistic metaphors ("It's a murder of crows," "It's a flurry of notes," "It's a bed full of ghosts," "It's a tissue of lies," "It's a blanket of snow," etc. etc.) that become overbearing when paired with a plodding, maudlin piano. "I Built a Fire" is as pretty as several other songs on the album, but its lyrics, alternately poetic ("I'm driftwood bleached as bone / I'm seaweed and wet sand / And glass worn smooth as stone") and unremarkable ("I built a fire in your name / I built a fire that I can't contain"), place it a notch below its instrumentally similar brethren.

Despite the sparse arrangements, the album sounds surprisingly lush, its pretty melodies providing just enough support for Petty's rich voice. It's a far cry from the country rockers of his previous band, but as folk albums go, The Sea, The Sea is a keeper. B+ | Jason Green


RIYL: Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine, the Jayhawks


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