Beast to the Bone (Independent)
Julie McGreer waxes eloquently about the evolution of everyday life on “Hold On”, tying together twists in personal dynamics, family histories, and the shifting of the seasons with a poetically paradoxical refrain: “The constant is the change.” That said, the Sands’ new Beast to the Bone album seems tailor-made as an autumnal aural experience.
A visual of tumbling maple leaves would pair nicely with the spacious guitar chords sliding between McGreer’s demure detailing of “the sky blue, torn wide open” on the intro track “Be More”. The onset of darker days, metaphorically or not, comes packaged with “Fall”, in which “The sun is slowly sinking/Inside, our hearts caving.” Along with McGreer’s hushed vocals percolating into songwriting partner Peggy Lee’s piano, Beast to the Bone is accentuated by the contributions of a crack team of musicians including master trumpeter JP Carter and violinist Jesse Zubot.
A cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” plays pleasantly with a 3/4 swing and a sliver of shimmering pedal steel from Neko Case sideman Paul Rigby, but its preciousness pales in light of the rest of the album’s elegance. The highlight “Magnolia” re-imagines Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” for the Canadiana crowd, utilizing an uphill shuffle of snare drums, melancholic brass, and nature-set storytelling. “Careful where you walk, you’re in bare feet,” McGreer tunefully warns her subject. On that note, the percussive crackle of dry leaves underfoot might not be that bad an accompaniment to the sounds of the Sands.