Royal City Little Heart’s Ease

[Three Gut/Rough Trade; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: indie rock
Others: Will Oldham, Magnolia Electric Company, Silver Jews

Little Heart's Ease is the latest record by Canadian indie folksters Royal City, a member-swapping collective led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Aaron Riches. Following a three year interim of touring and enjoying the critical acclaim which met the band's last record, Alone at the Microphone, Riches and co.'s new record carries a double-stamp of indie cred, bearing both Three Gut's and Rough Trade's respective imprints of distribution.

Royal City is a band likely tired of comparisons to the same groups every time out, but it seems to this writer (not having heard the band's prior releases) that some new ideas would serve them well. With lyrics that sometimes approach but fail to equal Will Oldham's and a single-octave vocal range that fails to excite the listener, Royal City just seem a bit, well, sedate. The production here is fine, if somewhat flat, and doesn't make the hum-drum first half of the album any more interesting.

But wait, you say -- three out of five, is it not? Little Heart's Ease redeems itself through the sheer pleasantness and consistency of its second half. While Riches manages to activate several indie-country-folk lyric clichés ("When I got back to my room/ I heard horses and thought about you/ cabbage rolls on the stove/ you flutter like a bird away from my home.") and conspicuously drops the word "ye" in "Jerusalem," the band acquit themselves with some striking electric guitar work on "My Body is Numbered" and "Enemy." The former sounds a lot like the Silver Jews' "Blue Arrangements," in a good way. Elsewhere, "Ain't that the Way" is yet another waltz-beat country jam that pleads for one particular adjective ("swooning"); the heartbreaking bridge before its final coda won this reviewer over. Royal City don't have the arresting lyrics or delivery of the best Palace songs, nor is Little Heart's Ease the equal of genre-champ Magnolia Electric Company, but, as Riches might put it, there's some sparkles in the rough.

1. Bring My Father a Gift
2. Jerusalem
3. She Will Come
4. Count the Days
5. Can't You
6. Cabbage Rolls
7. My Body Is Numbered
8. O Beauty
9. Ain't That the Way
10. That My Head Were a Spring of Water
11. Enemy
12. Take Me Down to Yonder River