Artist: Hearts of Oak
Produced By: Deer Lodge Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Hearts of Oak is a country band based out of Portland, Oregon featuring singer/songwriter/front man Nate Wallace, Ezra Meredith on guitar, Joel Meredith on pedal steel, Keith Richard McCarthy on bass and J Lever on drums. I first heard of Hearts of Oak when I reviewed the Deer Lodge album, A Tribute to George Jones. The band did a great cover of Jones' hit, Must've Been Drunk. So, when I was offered the opportunity to review Hearts of Oak's third album, New England, released in the summer of 2014, I was excited to hear what they had to offer.
New England has a lot to offer if you can get past the singing voice of Nate Wallace. The lyrics are well-thought out and meaningful, painting a vivid picture for the listener if they can pay attention long enough to hear it. And the music, in a word: excellent. Great acoustic guitar, awesomely haunting tones from the pedal guitar and I love the variety of beats in each track from the drum section.
The problem with New England is that the entire album is pretty much a downer. There isn't one song that doesn't sound hauntingly sad, from the father trying to get used to his little girl growing up in Used to It Now, the relationship issues in Lovers Ain't Easy, a relationship ended in Tunnels and more. Couple the sadness of the songs with the Bob Dylan/Neil Young inspired and oft times out of tune vocals of Nate Wallace and you may find yourself contemplating the release provided by suicide.
Now, that's not saying that the album is horrible, just that the distraught emotions brought out by the tracks on New England can be almost too much to bear. And the vocals are simply hard to listen to. When put together...well, it just makes the listener so sad that they will have to take a moment after this album is done to contemplate what makes their lives enjoyable.
That being said, I can't see myself recommending New England to anyone who is not fond of downbeat music. This album is best described as morose psychedelic country that will crush your heart and run those tear ducts dry. If you are into downer music, then New England is the way to go. Myself...well, I'm going to listen to something more upbeat now...something that will make me smile rather than cry.