Romantica | America (2024)

cd_romanticaSuch a record better at least evoke the search for the American dream, love and loss in the heartland, the feel of traveling on vast, open stretches of highway, the hope of an immigrant searching for a better life, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

Golly. Calling your record America is a pretty singular decision, and on the surface, not a particularly imaginative one for a promising alt-country style quartet. Such a record better at least evoke the search for the American dream, love and loss in the heartland, the feel of traveling on vast, open stretches of highway, the hope of an immigrant searching for a better life, etc.

Okay, Romantica's sophomore effort does actually do that for most of its 12-song length. And Irishman Ben Kyle, who wrote everything here, sings lead and plays guitar, keyboard and harmonica, definitely has the requisite "contemplative foreigner" perspective to inject these songs with the right vibe—sometimes even approaching a journalistic essaying feel. Thankfully, Kyle—a truly multi-talented guy—has put as much effort into the arrangements and production as he did on the lyrical themes. So you can enjoy the crisp sound of this folksy platter even if you don't feel like reading the tiny print of the lyrics on the inner sleeve.

The first half of the record is the most balanced, with both up-tempo numbers and slower, more introspective tracks. In fact, the first three tracks are just terrific. "Queen of Hearts" is an Eagles-like rocker with a strong vocal by Kyle and a foot-tappin' rhythm. "A girl's a gift from God/ If you can hold her heart/ But don't you let her go/ She'll tear you apart," sings Kyle, and in the realm of "Treat your baby right or you'll be sorry"-themed songs, this track is tops. "I Need You Tonight" is about as accessible a tune as you could want in the folk-rock genre, with Kyle offering a fluid turn on harmonica, while the lyrics unambiguously express the yearning for a certain significant other during tough times.

The album's best song, though, is likely "The National Side." This absolute corker of a tune features mariachi horns, an infectious rhythm and beautifully precise bass playing by Luke Jacobs (Jacobs' sturdy simplicity is an asset, in fact, throughout the disc). The lyrics deal with sacrifices, dreams and hopes in an immigrant family, and overall, this is one of the catchiest Americana songs you're likely to hear, fully justifying the album's title. There's also a very potent emotional undercurrent in more contemplative songs like "Ixcatan," which blends a theme of wanton violence in a small Mexican town with the occasion of a youthful wedding. Stylistically, the song sounds like an outtake from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska disc—and Kyle's vocal here even emulates the Boss, uncannily.

The second half of America gets a little bogged down with slower tracks, even though the vocals and arrangements of compelling tunes like "La Traviada" still mostly hold your attention. But the mood is heavier, and you start to tire of the rustic guitars and samey rhythms. One more solid rocker could've solved this problem. Still, Romantica have made a classy and more than listenable entry in the Americana genre. The flavor is authentic throughout, and with regard to the question What's in a name?, for this band and their new record, the answer is plentyB | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Ryan Adams, Wilco, Iron & Wine

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