Grey Eye Glances
Eventide
(Parachute/Mercury)


I listen to CDs at my computer in the office every day, screening albums sent to me for review in this column as well as just for enjoyment (and the two are often not the same thing!). People expect to hear songs trickling out my office door, and rarely say much about it. So it's a measure of the lure of Eventide that shortly after I put on Grey Eye Glances' major label debut a couple weeks ago, Kathleen, a co-worker, stopped at my desk to see what I was listening to. "I really like that," she told me, after staying to listen for a few minutes. This morning, as I rushed to meet a publication deadline, I was listening to the gentle flow of Eventide again, in preparation to write this column. The first song wasn't even over, when Kathleen stood at my desk again. "Is this that album?" she asked. I nodded and offered to let her borrow it. "I'm going to have to buy it," she answered, and begging a pen and paper, wrote down the group's name.

This is a long way of saying that Grey Eye Glances' Mercury debut (they have previously released two independent CDs) is a special album, the kind you'll keep returning to like an old friend, month after month. It's not a collection of throwaway pop songs, but each of its 13 tracks is undeniably catchy. It's not a country or folk album, but it has a definite earthy, Nashville sway to many songs. It's not a progressive rock record in the way that Renaissance was in the '70s, but yet they do tread a line between inventive musicianship and literate lyricism.

Produced by Glenn Rosenstein (who produced the genre-bending October Project's first LP) Eventide encompasses elements of folk, rock, progressive, country and has garnered comparisons to Everything But the Girl, October Project and Mary Chapin Carpenter, among others. They've had the opportunity to open for Annie Haslam's Renaissance, but mostly, the band has spent its three-year career playing at Border's Books, where keyboardist Dwayne Keith worked. Maybe some of that bookstore influence rubbed off — the band took its current name from an Edgar Allen Poe poem (they used to be called Sojourn, but were forced to change it due to another band's prior claim).

While Poe-ish mood isn't exactly their focus, they do settle back in places on Eventide for some bittersweet, ambient passages. In one of the album's moodier offerings, "Days to Dust," vocalist/guitarist Jennifer Nobel sounds like Aimee Mann during Til Tuesday's latter days. That same atmospheric side of the band begs comparison to Grace Pool, a beautifully melodic, often melancholy act that slipped into obscurity at the outset of the '90s after two poignant albums. Hopefully, the same fate doesn't await Grey Eye Glances, because this is truly a special album, brimming with emotion.

Nobel's guitar playing ranges from Moon Seven Times' expansiveness (compare Eventide's airy, unlabeled 14th track to any of Moon Seven Time's records) to catchy, tightly strummed acoustic rock (notably in the organ-tinged single "Halfway Back"). Keith fills out the songs with a variety of keyboard sounds, from even-handed piano to washes of smooth synth to orchestral strings to retro-organ. Eric O'Dell plays a non-intrusive but often highly rhythmic bass. The band doesn't have a permanent drummer listed in its lineup, but they've got percussion on every song anyway.

And some of those songs will have you swaying in pure lyrical, harmonic bliss. Nobel's voice is crystalline clean — a joy to listen to as she sings evocative lines like:

"When I dream it's never dark
when the moon is swirling through my head
do you come to watch me too
do you think of me as a part of you
heart of you
start of you."
(from "Angel")

The album reaches its emotive climax in the melancholic "Chills," which has a hint of Cowboy Junkies to it as Nobel sings a smooth, cool poem of memories:

"And here I am
trapped within this moment again
holding firm on this aerial I send
And now I know
Like I've never really known before
come what may
to remember it and soar
you ask of me once more
"you feel those chills?"

This is a warm, special record which could easily turn out to be one of the best releases of this still-young year.

Web savvy surfers can find out more about the band and album or download samples of the songs from a very nicely put together home page at http://greyeyeglances.com