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  Love Lights the Way  
  Blessed Light  
  Mill Pond Records  
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Based out of Seattle, Blessed Light play, according to their press sheet, "tender and trippy soft rock stylings, shaded with a reverence for music of the 60's and 70's." Unfortunately, that in and of itself doesn't tell you much. Many (if not most) of the albums I've reviewed for EvilSponge could fall under that same broad category of retro-rock/pop But with named influences of Gram Parsons, Beachwood Sparks, and pre-disco BeeGees, it's easy to see that Blessed Light fall on the mellow side of the bandwagon, in a world without 60s British psychedelia or the raunchiness of proto-punk bands like the MC5.

Love Lights the Way, complete with a soothing beach-scape cover that could have come off an inspirational poster, pretty much bears out the above point. Filled with fairly low key, slower paced songs, the focal point of the music seems to be Toby Gordon's singing and guitar playing. But what saves this from being a typical singer-songwriter affair is the presence of Maria Leon Guerrero's organ-playing, which gives the music an unexpected richness in tone.

The best songs on Love Lights the Way have a dreamy but deliberate feel about them. For instance, opening track Suzanne Sunshine begins with jangly guitars and understated keyboard, Later, the mood is sustained, even as the guitar goes into overdrive and the song turns more rocking on a surface level. Likewise, my favorite track, My Beloved, feels like a stripped down recording by Saturday Looks Good to Me. It's got the same almost Motown jangle (albeit with a more bluesy sound), and a hint of reverb on Gordon's vocals, which for once masks the slightly fey qualities of his voice. Finally, Battlefield Figure, blends a exceedingly pretty guitar riff with slightly melancholy keyboards to great effect. In this case, the atmospheric nature of the song works to Blessed Light's advantage, as the 6/8 time signature emphasizes the dreamy, Mark Kozelek-esque songwriting.

In contrast, the songs which don't entirely work seem to stretch out indeterminately, as the slow pace turns plodding, the dreaminess simply becomes clouded, and Gordon's distinctive voice just gets in the way. For instance, on Golden Gardens, Gordon's lyrical wordiness becomes somewhat oppressive, and I would like for him to hush so I can appreciate the pretty music going on in the background. Similarly, Something More demonstrates their BeeGees influence. This in and of itself isn't bad, but the frailness of Gordon's voice and its prominence in the material works against a song which could have been a strong Lambchop-esque number.

Ultimately, it seems as though the major issue with this album is the crisp production. With the vocals so far up front, most of the songs sound like Gordon is sitting in my speakers. And while this works in some cases, on many of the songs the effect is disconcerting. Furthermore, the instrumentation seems unbalanced, as the rhythm guitar overwhelms the drums, and the essential organ gets lost underneath everything, when it should instead dominate. In other words, Love Lights the Way needs to be more blended, if only so that the unexpected vocal edges would be smoothed and the instruments would occasional push Gordon out of the way. Of course, this preference may be a reflection of the fact that I live in Atlanta/Athens corridor, where you can't spit without hitting a similarly influenced band, and home-based production is the name of the game. Nevertheless, a little lofi muddiness would makes the songs easier to appreciate.

To give them credit, Blessed Light have managed to overcome their limitations, and create a record that still has some notable highlights, even if it is a bit uneven. And upon further reflection, I suspect that most of my own issues with Love Lights the Way are based on the production itself, and not necessarily with the writing or musicianship. However, if you're one of those people who liked Saturday Looks Good to Me's All Your Summer Songs (an album with which I had many of these same issues), I suspect you'd like this album, and find it one of the more pleasant summery pop records of 2004.

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