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Americana pop goes
a bit flat

The Pantones - Inside The Sun's Wild Flame
(Phonophore Records)
2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 3, 2009
The Pantones

Review by Tony Bonyata

I admit that before receiving The Pantones' sophomore effort, Inside The Sun's Wild Flame, I hadn't heard of the Lansing, MI quartet before. But after reading that their music incorporated elements of earthy Americana, '60s Britpop and modern indie rock, and that the media likened their previous release, Sleepless Nights, Silent Mornings, to touchstones such as The Beatles, Old 97s, The Byrds and Neil Young, I had to check them out.

Well, either the critics were off their rockers or The Pantones have mixed things up enough on this album to throw fans of their previous record off their scent. While there are still underlying alternative-country currents throughout (mainly through the inclusion of Jeremy Rapp's stout pedal steel guitar & banjo. along with frontman David Baldwin's dusty, if not yet fully realized, vocals) there are more elements of pop-leaning rock numbers spiced with buoyant horns (courtesy of Baldwin), spirited electric guitar interludes and, quite often, pleasing harmonies (all of these evident on the album's strongest track, "Keeping You Alive"). Too often, however, it sounds like their trying to imitate the earlier sounds of Wilco without a clear plan of which path (country or pop rock) to take as they face the fork-in-the-road.

While the band effortlessly flexes a bit of muscle on the punchy and harder-rocking "History Rewritten" and exudes a bit of vaudevillian pop panache on the eclectic opening track, "Circus Freaks," there are just too many other songs here that fail to leave any lasting impression beyond the first couple of spins. Although well played-out and performed, there's a spark that's still missing from the entire affair - one that they'll hopefully be able to ignite on their next effort. The potential is certainly there.

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