Artist: Tall Heights
Label: Sony Music Masterworks
Release Date: 08/19/2016
In 2005, the great Phil Lesh (bassist and co-founder of the Grateful Dead) published a excellent memoir, Searching For The Sound. It is a nice title for a volume of musicianly musings, and it’s also a useful description of the journey all true musical talents take, especially emerging talents. “The sound” is the Holy Grail for those good enough and bold enough to take the true and deep musical path.
One-time Boston buskers Tim Harrington and Paul Wright, collectively known as Tall Heights, have both the talent and guts to search for “the sound” – their sound. On Neptune, their first major label release, they find it. In cathedrals of high tenor and soaring falsetto backed with electronic beats, electric and acoustic guitars and cello sent through a bevvy of effects, Tall Height create a sound that is solemn to the point of heartbreak, and is frequently breathtaking. Examples abound on this new album, from the first single “Spirit Cold” to “River Wider,” and “Infrared,” and “Two Blue Eyes.”
In fact, this “progressive folk” debut is so powerful on so many levels that just about the only concern I came away with after repeated listening was the lingering question of how – or whether – Harrington and Wright will avoid falling into the trap of coming across as cloyingly earnest – a sin in my book that’s difficult to do enough penance to atone for, and one that, knowing the tough streets of Boston, might actually be dangerous to their personal well-being. It was concern enough that, while listening to the tracks on Neptune and formulating how to review this lovely CD, I decided to check them out on their current tour. I had to know – are these guys cool, or are they just another professionally sensitive emo act?
After seeing th 50-minute set they played at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade in July, Tall Heights veer toward the cool. With dry, self-deprecating humor probably honed on the cobblestones of Faneuil Hall, they easily won over the mid-week Williamsburg audience. The vocal ambiance Harrington and Wright created onstage, while understandably not as rich as the sonic purity they are able to amass in the studio, was still filled with their golden tone – “their sound” – achieved with seeming ease, but a skill that demands intense focus and discipline to pull off.
It should also be mentioned that, both in the studio and live, Tall Heights achieve “purity” of vocal and instrumental sound with the assistance of loads of “impure” effects – reverb, electronic percussion and tons of echo. On the album, the production is stellar, save perhaps for a hair of too much echo on the vocals. In concert, the tweaking of stomp box knobs can distract at times from the performer’s role of engaging an audience. Otherwise the effects in no way detract from Tall Heights’ ability to create unbelievably rich tone and making it seem effortless.
Check out Neptune – it’s a fine place to escape to when your spirits need lifting up to some Tall Heights.
– Peter Jurew