Web Exclusive! Review of the Day ? Pablo: Half The Time

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Half The Time

Curb Appeal (CAR-003)

Grade: ***

In the quiet moments of “Loser Crew,” where fragile hearts shatter to plinking piano and spare acoustic guitar, things are left unsaid.

“I’d love to … and she’d love to … We know it’s right,” sings Paul Schalda, his voice a quivering shake. But that’s as far as either party gets in one of those “we have to talk” conversations that goes nowhere and reveals an hard, inescapable truth: “It’s over, it’s so over.”

What’s interesting about “Loser Crew” is that Schalda doesn’t wallow in regret or melancholy, as the rest of the song talks about rebirth and trying to rise above your failings to live a life that’s, even in some little way, meaningful.

A stark contrast of uncomfortable intimacy and profound hope, “Loser Crew” is the jewel in Half The Time’s tarnished tiara, a 2:51 microcosm of life changes carried along by rolling piano, swells of soaring, life-affirming guitars, sleigh bells and a crashing crescendo ? interrupted by a sad, very real episode in which a relationship crumbles.

Far from being a “Loser Crew,” Pablo is a collection of folk-tinged, alt-country planets that circle around the writings and world-weary voice of Schalda.

A family affair that includes Paul’s wife Maggie on vocal harmonies, his brother William on keyboards and the multi-instrumentalist prowess of the brothers Strandberg, Michael and William, Pablo is a troubled marriage of classic pop sensibilities and Southern accents that’s built to last.

Opener “Wall Street” is a shambling, glorious mess of slide guitar, harmonica and rugged piano that knocks the dust off Half The Time’s Stetson hat, before the disjointed title track gets bogged down in an odd, out-of-place flurry of handclaps before falling into a well of dark, beautiful piano and being rescued by “Get Around” and “The Talk,” a pair of stunning, bittersweet, folk-rock catharses that purges melancholy from Half The Time’s system.

Though flawed, Pablo’s Half The Time is a winning mix of rough, Replacements-style bravado and Damien Jurado’s empathetic, sepia-toned storytelling. And it’s mostly due to Schalda, who seems as comfortable messing about alone with a beat-up acoustic guitar as he is immersed in full, grand arrangements that never overwhelm the honesty of his vision.

The sublime pop beauty of “Calm Down” and “Words For Free,” as well as the faithful Zombies’ cover “This Will Be Our Way,” speak to Schalda’s melodic gifts and the band’s comfortable interplay.

Pablo gets it right more than Half The Time.

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