Pete Quirk's gravelly voice on "Summer Windows" rumbles up from the heartland of highwayside telephone poles, shaded forests, too many cigarettes sucked down in the ennui of a dusty twilight. The rolling guitar and barely-there voice cracks cozy up to you and set up a heavy promise for Welcome Joy, the second Cave Singers album. The road is wide open, the sun is just now rising over the desert, they can floor the gas or they can break your heart, from here it can go in almost any direction.
The slow strumming of Derek Fudesco's folk guitar is so natural, you'd think he spent his entire life in the back of a boxcar with nothing but a beat-up acoustic Gibson for company. You'd never suspect he had lent that same easy mastery to busting out jagged punk rock licks for Pretty Girls Make Graves. This kind of chameleon ability to slide smoothly into a genre gives the album a solid feel, like these guys have been doing it for years. At their best, they channel Nick Cave and the Pogues, rusty and rustic, well-traveled and well-worn.
Welcome Joy is solid through and through. It even avoids that common pitfall where the second half drops off into hopeless mediocrity. But while that's commendable, it's also the album's downfall. There are no risks taken, no detours off the road most traveled, no critical moments that stick in your mind. It's sad, because the opening track holds the promise that if Cave Singers unleashed themselves just a bit, they could make some really great music. As is, there are definitely some standout tracks. "Beach House" is full of curbside camaraderie, "I Don't Mind" is another classic country highway track to add to a tape deck already bursting at the seams.
I wish they gave it a little more, pushed a little harder, fulfilled that initial promise. But not every road trip can be the road trip of your life. Sometimes it just grows on you. Sometimes you just nestle into your comfortable old car, curl into the embrace of the frayed upholstery, and set off on familiar highways, humming along as streetlights waver and the odometer ticks quietly. - Nina Mashurova