Second Day Red, Gallery of Strangers

Second Day Red, Gallery of Strangers

After roughly five years of playing and performing together, Austin-based band Second Day Red has released a new bevy of engaging songs under the album heading Gallery of Strangers. Fronted by singer/songwriter Stephen Clarke, this five-piece group interacts marvelously with one another to unleash some very inviting and appealing material throughout. Brimming with acoustic guitar-based structuring and moderate-tempo rhythms, the additional backing of Drew Shafer on violin, Todd Wilson on keyboards, Roel Martinez on bass, and Frank Favacho on drums combines to deliver an extremely full, rich sound that immediately captivates listeners and masterfully compliments the sweeping dynamics created by Clarke’s primary, chord-strummed laydowns.

Somewhat reminiscent of groups like the Dave Matthews Band or U2, Second Day Red invokes a solid alt-rock basis, upon which they build a variety of numbers dressed-up with creatively-injected runs and inter-marriages of keys and violin. The end result is a wonderful mixture of ear-catching melodies with emotionally-charged harmonies. Driven by the consistently-tight attacks of a pervasive bottom end and percussive treatment, the entire overall effect is further underscored by the gliding, yet sometimes syncopated, overtones of Clarke’s stylish lead vocals.

As a singer, Clarke also possesses the unusual ability to jump back and forth between lows and falsettos like a Texas jackrabbit, sliding smoothly between straight-open and breathy releases. All this he accomplishes not only effortlessly, but also quite pleasingly. In fact, it would have to be these falsetto spikes that will probably best earmark the band’s set-apart sound for future reference. Add to these features the smart and meaningful lyrics attached to most songs, and you have a pretty cool combination…one definitely deserving of a major listen.

My personal dubs from the album are “Something To Breathe,” one of those bookin’ kind of acoustic-driven beat-back tunes that makes you just want to put the car on cruise control and truck on down the highway, and “I’ve Been Out,” a fantastic market-targeted song that wraps freely moving vocals and harmonies around prevailing guitar riffs and violin backing. “Phoenix Tonight,” my personal favorite, paints lyrical traveling-destination metaphors against a sonic canvas of impassioned singing and steadily-moving instrumental interactions. “It’s Up To You,” another simple, yet earnest cut that begs for foot tapping, excellently plays off of a held-out, eight-beat chord change progression that gradually slides right into a relaxed, naturally-resolving chorus, all the while lyrically nudging the need for an initiated response; solicited, but not as yet received.

At a recent and somewhat rare outing in the Houston area, the band opened for Joe Bonamassa and gave locals a taste of their onstage presence. Frankly, it didn’t take long to realize that they had something really special. They’re all very talented musicians, sure, but they also know how to work a room, and they impressed a lot of people that night with the way they played directly into the audience with attention-grabbing forthrightness.

Churning out cut-after-cut from Gallery, they displayed a real proximity and empathy with listeners, almost a communal type of rapport that exults confidently from being on the same wavelength with the common interests of an audience, artistically inspiring differing emotive responses from each of the various styles and strains unveiled in successive songs. To put a fine point on it, Second Day Red is even more captivating in live performance than what comes across on their studio work…and that’s actually saying a fair bit, mind you.

So, if you like mid-tempo alternative rock sans any hint of shocking sonic belts or layers of distortion, and your taste in music runs more in line with melodious, rhythmically acoustic-driven content that leans a tad more toward adult contemporary than harder fare, and you enjoy keyboards and violin as additive rather than mainstay elements, then you would do well to give Second Day Red a little test drive in the near future. If you’re ever in Austin, you can catch them pretty regularly at Momo’s, but you best hurry. I have a sneaking suspicion that a bigger spotlight just might be heading their way soon.

(self-released; Second Day Red --

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008. Filed under Reviews.

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