By Jason Shoff
Well I must say I was pretty excited to listen to this album. The Aurian Haller Band's latest album, House of Words, was billed in the press material that I received as being in the vein of Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, a "strangely triumphant record" of "tear-jerking music that could define a generation." So needless to say, I was expecting to hear a record in the vein of a Pink Moon or Songs of Love and Hate. What I got instead, though, was another typical folk rock record. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing: however, it's still a disappointment.
The pedal steel-driven "Wolf at the Door" is a nice enough opener, sounding like it could fit nicely on Harvest, with Haller's vocals coming off like an interesting hybrid of Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. The following title track begins with some nice finger-picking acoustic guitar before veering off into a bit of spoken word that sounds like he's doing an imitation of spoken word Johnny Cash. It then suddenly heads into a verse that sounds like it came from a Marshall Tucker Band record, before heading into a '70s sing song chorus and a bridge that reminds me of the Heartbreakers. In other words, it sounds like four different songs copied and pasted together, never maintaining a consistent vibe.
"And Still" brings the album into more of a grunge rock direction, like if Screaming Trees decided to take a stab at Neil Young folk rock, while "Les Orphelins" is Tom Petty at his most Wildflowers, with some French lyrics thrown in for good measure (which makes sense, seeing as though they're from Quebec City). "Sister Moon," however, is by far the most instantly attention-grabbing song here, it's piercing harmonica and gorgeous melody creating a tune that sounds like Cohen if he tried to tackle a track from After the Gold Rush (props to the piano player for some beautiful playing on this track, as well). "Do Me a Favour" is also highly enjoyable, coming off like Fleetwood Mac at their most country rock, and "If Only" is a haunting piano ballad that is by far the more at straightforward Cohen-like track here. In contrast, the overdramatic "River Flow" sounds like vintage '70s Neil Diamond (and not in a good way), and the French "La Premiere" aims to be a moody, atmospheric piece but fails to get off the ground.
Overall this is a pleasant enough record, with a few tunes that you could fit perfectly into a summer playlist. But the playing can be pretty rough around the edges at times, and the band doesn't come up with a consistently strong set of hooks, which is needed when an album is thirteen songs long and most stretch past the four minute mark. Is the Aurian Haller Band a fine rootsy group with potential? Absolutely. But a "voice of a generation"? Not yet. Not even close.