Cosmic country meets cinematic wide-screen lyricism in the Seattle barroom honky-tonk music of that city's Evening Bell. The band's genially sprawling yet intensely self-assured brand of nostalgia is masterminded by its two main songwriters Caitlin Sherman and Hart Kingsbery, who, with the aid of sidemen/rhythm section Jason Merculief and Aaron Harmonson, bring a deep sense of lived-in, hard-working country heartbreak to their compositions; this is brought alive musically by yearning close harmony vocals, twangy electric guitar and lonesome pedal steel embellished with extra colours of piano, cello, dobro, violin and lap steel courtesy of four guest musicians.
Opening track This Bar Room Ain't Your Church, was conceived as an ode to Gram and Emmylou, but feels a touch cumbersome by comparison with the more animated cuts that follow. Light The Lanterns presents an inventively scored soundscape that features a weighty cosmic-cowboy string section, and epic block piano chords usher in Tail Light's bittersweet roadside siren-song. Strange Mamma comes on like a doomy sibling of the Burritos, contrasting with the weary boogie of Dead End Friends And Fair Weather Lovers. The instrumental Western Theme takes a while to get going, but ends up grand, like ELO riding onto a spaghetti-western set. Closing track What An Angel Does takes a more leisurely and yet more intimate approach to its exploration of desire through regret and bitter experience, and leaves a disturbing taste with its particularly warped guitar solo.
Dying Stars is described on the press handout as "the kind of album you might expect to come from Ennio Morriscone and David Bowie watching Twin Peaks together", which I find a touch fanciful and over-imagined. Better is the handout's other (more succinct) description: "Evening Bell's ode to, and journey from, the darkness", and I can't disagree with that, for therein lies the record's distinctive dark appeal.
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