One simple word to describe the fourth album from North Carolina's Connells would be terrific.
More words might suffice, including saying that the band has finally forged its own unique identity with the album, but plainly put, "One Simple Word" was easily one of 1990's best 10 albums.Working with veteran English producer Hugh Jones (Del Amitri, Echo & The Bunnymen) for six weeks in Wales, the band enjoyed recording the album more than any other studio effort, vocalist Doug MacMillan confessed in a recent telephone interview, and it certainly shows it.
From start to finish, there isn't a weak track on the album, and additionally, the band's playing and harmonizing has never been tighter. Though Jones brought in some outside musicians (including former Modern English keyboardist Robert Lord, celloist Caroline Lavelle and woodwind player par excellence Kate St. John), he allows the band to showcase its many talents, including giving guitarist George Huntley a chance to shine on piano and MacMillan the opportunity to try his hand at guitar.
Also, group founder Mike Connell has relinquished some of the songwriting chores - the album features three numbers written by Huntley, one by MacMillan and four collaborations between Connell and MacMillan - and toughened up his playing like never before.
The album's first single, "Stone Cold Yesterday," arguably 1990's best single, features a straight-ahead, twin-guitar rock approach (from Connell and Huntley) and full, rich harmonies from MacMillan and Huntley. The subsequent follow-up single, "Get a Gun" (1991's best single?), is a lovely acoustic number with a subtle country-western feel and MacMillan's suitably subdued vocals.
Downplayed a little are the Irish and Scottish folk influences that were so prevalent and typical of the band's earlier releases, especially 1987's college radio smash "Boylan Heights." Instead, the group has reserved those influences for three of the later tracks - Huntley's "Link" and "The Joke," and Connell's "Waiting My Turn."
Not surprisingly, the latter is the album's big winner: a lovely, though downbeat, number about a lover spurned. MacMillan and Lavelle add gentle support vocals to Connell's frail vocals, and St. John's wan oboe work is always tasteful and never obtrusive.
It's a gem on an album filled with similarly sparkling numbers, and though it was overlooked initially after its mid-1990 release, alternative radio play of both singles may finally give this band the due respect it deserves and allow it to look out behind the Southern rock spectre that is R.E.M.