I downloaded a couple of the songs off Small Sur’s Tones a few weeks ago and was only moderately intrigued…but a bit later, found the CD on my desk (my desk is such a mess) and ripped it in. The album seems to work a lot better as a whole than in isolated songs…not sure whether this is because they didn’t pick the best cuts for mp3s or you just need time to get acclimated. I’m leaning towards the latter explanation, however, because this is extremely subtle, quiet music, whose appeal is its utter natural-ness, its simplicity, its slow blooming-ness. I’d say that the best point of reference is Bowerbirds, whose songs also develop like Polaroids over time, so that where you at first perceived nothing much at all, later, the images and melodies clarify into startling beauty.
Small Sur is sort of an expanded solo project of Bob Keal, a South Dakota-born (there’s a very lovely song called “South Dakota” on Tones), Baltimore-based songwriter. He’s got a full band on Tones, with guest shots from members of Lower Dens (that’s Jana Hunter’s new thing) and Wye Oak.
Anyway, as I said, the single by itself didn’t wholly convince me, but if you like it at all, I’d suggest you check out the album, out now and available from the Small Sur website.