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Sun Over Rain (Ensemble)
the rain chorus
By Bob Bahr
Sun Over Rain is one of a small handful of important Louisville albums released in the last year or so and it's not because the project is executed with unmatched professionalism, from the packaging to the fine production. It's not because it is from the rain chorus, one of the most vital and popular original bands from the area. It's because eight of the twelve cuts here are undeniably great songs.
That's no surprise to folks who keep an eye on the Louisville music scene; songwriter Danny Flanigan has a well-earned reputation for being a good writer. Sun Over Rain is some of Flanigan's best songs executed by an empathetic ensemble of proficient musicians.
Paragraph after paragraph could be written about "Trust," "Sturnbled," "Beautiful Day" and "Blue-Green Then." "Hourglass," with its odd chord progression and strong, focused lyrics, could kick off a music theory class then move to a literature class and engage folks in both disciplines.
Lyrics range from the painfully overt, as in "Money Country" when Flanigan sings "Here in the money country dreams are bought and sold/Here in the money country security is gold," to the avalanche of subtleties in "Blue-Green Then" that accumulate into a clear tale of diverging lives. One lover sees the end, "the writing on the wall/He loves the color of it/And she reads between the lines/From books he'd never recognize."
Musically, the rain chorus is playing tunes with the impact of folk music, wrapping the songs in a sound that ranges from country rock to jazz, with a heaping portion of Prefab "Sprout-style pop. Todd Johnson's eloquent, sweetly sad guitar work is captivating and Cary Shields is a model of tasteful, solid drumming. Mike Baker's competent bass playing adds a gentle nudge of energy and Flanigan doubles up on solid-body acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Flanigan's guitar contribution is the straightforward acoustic sound on Sun Over Rain, usually strummed, occasionally picked in the Pat Metheny, delicately melodic style. Hear Flanigan's skill at the six-string at the beginning of "Heartland;" check out Johnson's exquisite phrasing in "Trust," the album opener. Guests who add significantly include saxophonist Reid Jahn (especially on "Stumbled") and vocalist Kelly Wilkinson.
If the listener can find the time to look for weaknesses while wading through this album's strengths, the listener may find that some of the songs begin to blend together, that some of the more strident lyrics grow old over time, that F1anigan's voice is the weakest instrument in the rain chorus.
Flanigan might blow off the criticism with this section of "Stumbled," when he sings "People are talking/What else is new/ People talk when they ain't got nothing else to do/But listen closely/'Cause I will amend/No other part is as important as the end."
And the rain chorus' end looks promising from this perspective. With songwriting duties being shared more and more in the group (two songs on Sun Over Rain were written by other band members) and with the psychological obstacle of a debut effort behind them, the rain chorus could sing sweetly for years to come.