Sounds familiar: Blue Merle's not hiding influences
The Fires EP (Island/Def Jam)
In case you're not in the know about Blue Merle, let me catch you up on the current buzz. The Tennessee band members are Red Light Management's (aka Coran Capshaw's) newest boys destined to make noise. Some believe them to be a shoe-in for pop stardom. They sure didn't have to do much more than show up in town for three weeks to get the local media buzzing.
But their three weeks here were my three weeks laid up with some sort of flu. The doctor told me to suck Sudafed until I can't perform manly duties in the home or until I can't feel my face... whichever comes first. Then she says to quit smoking. So now I'm sick, and irritable– and unable to catch Blue Merle at Starr Hill.
Instead, I strolled over to my local record store and picked up their six-song EP for the low, low price of $2.99. I was captivated from the jump by the cover photo of a cow silhouetted under palm trees. I wasn't sure where they were going with that idea, but it was intriguing nevertheless.
The Fires EP is crisp, dead-on song writing and arranging served up short and sweet on a bed of layered guitars, mandolin, bass, violins, and drums. The hooks are the kind that stick in your head for days after only one listen, the sound full and warm. Their music evinces a maturity seldom heard by groups this young.
The song "If I Could" has the makings of a huge single. I've been carrying the song around in my head all week. I have to say I was pretty damn impressed, but... (there's always a but.) I heard someone say that you know when you've written a good song when you feel like you've heard it before. I can subscribe to that statement with the proviso that once finished with the song, you aren't able to place where you heard it. The key words in the statement are "feel like."
Therein lies the problem with Blue Merle. I felt like I'd heard their songs before– and then I realized where. I started to place their sound next to another well-known band, and the resemblances were uncanny. Okay, let me just say it. Blue Merle sounds alarmingly like Coldplay. Just replace the Coldplay piano parts with Blue Merle's mandolin.
Yeah, it's kinda freakish. Vocalist Lucas Reynolds plays with those high falsettos in the same dreamy fashion as the Brit band the world has come to know and love– not to mention that they use the same rolling triplet notes and pulsing kick/rim-shot rhythms.
What's scarier is that it isn't all Coldplay one hears in their sound. There's a little DMB in there too– so much so that I was playing the EP at work, and my boss came in and asked whether I had just picked up a new DMB album. When I calmly informed her that we were listening to Blue Merle, she just smiled and shrugged.
Now I have listened to The Fires EP over and over, and I have to admit I like it: it's catchy, it's well produced, it's easily digestible– and just about every other adjective that would lead one to assume this band has what it takes to be a huge success. They're a shoo-in– as long as the fact that they sound so much like other great artists works in their favor and not against them.
PHOTO BY DAMANI HARRISON