|part of:||Paste: Best Music of 2009 (So Far): Josh Jackson (number: 3) (order: 3)|
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With their second full-length album, this Rhode Island trio with a penchant for 'morally agnostic narrative' seem to have come of age. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin is a slow grower, and their folky but distinctly anthemic brand of Americana manages to transcend its influences through a combination of sturdy melodies and sometimes startling lyrical imagery.
The Low Anthem's other trademark is their novel arrangements, with all members being multi-instrumentalists. Ben Miller's vocals range from the Bon Iver-ish falsetto of the title track to a ragged blues holler, and he plays banjo, mouth organ and the occasional trumpet. Jocie Adams' clarinet lends a chamber folk ambience in several places, and Jeffrey Prystowsky plucks a double bass. On top of this, everybody chops and changes on guitars, drums and the pump organ that supplies a luminous background drone on more than half the tracks.
The way the tranquil beauty of the opening brace of songs is rudely disturbed by the blues stomp of The Horizon Is A Beltway remains jarring after several plays, which makes this the album's main weakness. It's followed in a similar vein by a version of Home I'll Never Be, a Tom Waits song that uses Jack Kerouac's words. Ticket Taker returns to more pastoral territory, suggesting a more melodic Lambchop, and then there's the swelling To The Ghosts Who Write History Books, with Miller's mouth organ underlining the band's interest in Neil Young.
(Don't) Tremble seems to echo the traditional Mockingbird Song, with its list of conditionals, the most memorable of which goes, ''If the winds surround your house/Don't twist and twist about/Wait it out''.
The best of the rowdier pieces is Champion Angel, which rides an elastic guitar groove and features surreal lyrics that recall Dylan and The Band at their sneering best. Cage The Songbird and the title track (the meaning of which is pretty opaque) both have a churchy feel, which once again underlines why the band chose their name. Chances are there will be plenty of worshippers before too long.