Carbon Red is a collective of songwriters and players from different parts of the United States that has just released their newest album titled The Tree. The band members include Michelle Martin (vocals/keyboards), Gavin Martin (vocals/guitar), Jimmy Peterson (lead guitar), Scott Eastwood (lead vocals/bass) and Justin Martin (drums). The band is now based in Colorado and wrote and produced all the tracks themselves. Stylistically they refuse to pigeonhole themselves, saying simply: “There is no one greater style - a great song is a great song.” That’s about all the personal info they’ve provided so let’s get right to the songs! The opening track “Life of a Pirate” begins with a heavily phased electric guitar soloing across the tundra, then settles into a minor-key, almost Spanish-sounding ballad. The band’s sound is tight but their mixes have a homemade, heavily compressed quality. As such I assumed these were a bunch of young whippersnappers but the band’s videos reveal they are closer to middle-aged, which makes their youthful creative energy even more impressive. “Remember the Times” continues in the same key and tempo and with such a similar riff to “Pirate” that it feels like another section of the same song. I don’t think I’ve ever made this comparison before but the vocals and music immediately took me back to Natalie Merchant and 1000 Maniacs. “Enki” is a minor key rocker with vocals by Scott Eastwood alongside Michelle’s Leon Russell-like organ and piano. Eastwood’s voice is expressive, often taking on character traits (gruff, insinuating) as opposed to mellifluous, but it works for rock! Drummer Justin Martin gets a few wild moments and there’s yet another electric lead guitar roaming free, but sonically there’s barely room for all these elements to breathe. “I’ll Stand Again” begins with a simple, picked electric guitar pattern that could be The Shaggs after a lot of practice. This is the first song with a video, so you can start putting faces to the music. This is another minor key ballad about moving on, and the video is shot in a snowy metropolis which I’m assuming is Colorado. This track is one of the most “commercial” songs thus far, and toward the end the video shows the whole group performing in their home studio. “Fire No More” is a hardcore metal track that nonetheless makes room for Michelle Martin’s keyboards and more of her rocking, assertive vocals and Grace Slick-style wailing. Jimmy Peterson’s guitar is beyond 11, and drummer Justin Martin is allowed to wail with abandon. Again, the song is a bit over-compressed, which is a shame because I’d have loved to hear all these instruments more clearly. “The Tree” is portrayed in the band’s second video, and it’s a big, expensive-looking production: formal wear, a shooting set with chandeliers, a gleaming white grand piano and even a supple acrobat bathed in purple light! The song itself is another slow, minor key ballad (if these guys ever play a major chord, I might have a heart attack!) with Scott Eastwood’s characteristically pinched vocals leading the way. Apparently this song is based on Eastwood’s self-help audiobook “How To Make This The Best Day Possible” which is why he takes most of the spotlight here. There’s also a totally surprising flute solo by the multi-talented Ms. Martin, whose lovely keyboards largely anchor the song. Martin also takes the lead vocals on “I Need You Now” which again conjures fond memories of Natalie Merchant. This is one of the most upbeat tracks so far, with a catchy tempo, sweet phased guitar and Martin’s flute. It’s again filled with minor chords but here they somehow feel sunny and hopeful. “Chasing The Shade” dares to tackle hardcore blues rock, with processed vocals, distorted harmonica and an electric guitar that’s so overdriven you can practically hear the air molecules disintegrating in its path. I’d compare this to Heart, but Heart would get steamrolled by these guys. “The Person I Call Me” features a terrific call-and-response riff between piano and guitar. This band is unusual in that it highlights a singer/songwriter like Michelle Martin on vocals but almost never gives the blasting electric guitar a break. That arrangement is consistent throughout most of their songs but sometimes I wish I could hear Michelle’s vocals clear of the backing. “The Dark (The Beginning)” starts with a Tolkienesque narration by multiple voices, concluding “Only in dark does the light shimmer through.” The acoustic guitars begin playing with a beautiful, shimmering quality, soon joined by epic electric guitars, proggy synths and sweetly melodic bass. Eastwood’s vocals are again on the sharp side, this time suggesting a wizened old Hobbit. This is the kind of track that was not unusual for albums by The Moody Blues or early Genesis. Toward the end we have probably the best guitar solo thus far. “Time Roll On (Present Time)” concludes the set with a classical-sounding grand piano paired with hardcore fuzz guitar and Michelle Martin’s dramatically beautiful vocals, though I yet again wished they were less enveloped within the hard rock sound. The song itself is a perfect ending, with the chorus acting as a kind of curtain-closing sing-along. Though I have my quibbles with some of the production choices, these are excellent songs beautifully performed by a talented group of songwriters and is well worth checking out.
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