(All Album Reviews by Duncan Glenday)
Style : Folky / bluesy rock with a progressive edge. Song oriented and melodic.
Summary : With its upbeat, positive atmosphere and its stylistic variety, this album is a real breath of fresh air.
Grace is the second release since the 1997 inception of Farpoint, a 6-piece band from South Carolina. With three guitarists, a flautist, keys, bass, percussion and two distinctly different vocalists, their style varies greatly from track to track. It is melodic, song oriented music, with approachable, uncomplicated melodies that will remain transfixed in the mind for hours after the album ends.
The tremendous variety in their sound stems from both instrumentation and vocals:
Many songs have a mellow tone led by acoustic guitar, flute and keys. Others are more upbeat, featuring frequent blistering guitar solos which represent the principle energy source in this music.
Probably the most immediately apparent quality of Grace, however, is the contrast in the two lead vocalists.
Clarke Boone’s voice is vaguely reminiscent of a more husky voiced version of Dave Cousins of Strawbs - unconventional, a little leathery at first, but after several listens that leather takes on the familiarity and comfort of a favorite armchair. In contrast, Songbird Dana Oxendine’s clear and moody voice doesn’t have the greatest sonic range, but it is melodic and clear and a pleasure to hear. It is the highlight of the album.
Production quality has improved since their first album, and for a self produced work, it is very good - but not the album’s greatest strength. Hopefully, the next album will see similar improvement.
The first track, “Into The Night”, starts with a dramatic rumbling and a newscaster’s voice-over announcing an apocalyptic storm, followed by a wind machine and a few bars of "Amazing Grace". Then a low-register guitar riff breaks in, followed by keys, strong percussion, and great lead guitar work. Then enter Clark Boone’s harsh vocals with lots of reverb, and it ends with a blistering guitar solo. This track has the most progressive sound on the album.
Grace is defined by its stylistic variation, which is very apparent in the contrast between the first two tracks. The first half of Track 2, “Dawn” comprises simple but catchy acoustic guitar work. Then muted percussion is introduced, along with bass and Dana’s vocals, softly backed up by the 2 male vocalists and her flute, giving it an almost Celtic mood. It ends with a simple keyboard solo that fades gently.
“Grace”, the title track, starts with the sounds of rain and spoken vocals, with simple acoustic guitar and a distant clock bell, then Mike Avins launches the first of a sequence of great guitar solos. Clark’s gravelly voice is at its best here, and the trade-off between lead and acoustic guitars is the highlight of this track. It ends with powerful vocal chorus, and a full instrumental wall of sound.
“Sunset” leads off with elegant piano and acoustic guitar, then builds gently with keys, clean, melodic bass, and Dana’s vocals, sometimes with male backing. The song has a simple and consistent underlying theme, and each instrument takes a short solo. Listen for the acoustic guitar solo played in the style of a lead guitar.
The final track, “Into the Light” starts with a soft keyboard and acoustic guitar intro, then introduces a soft choir of male vocals, then a stronger choir of vocals led by Dana sounding better than ever. It is probably the best song on the album.
Farpoint’s web site (www.farpointband.com) is professionally designed and newsy, but a little thin on real information.
Grace has a strong spiritual theme, and borders on gospel music. With or without the religious overtones, however, this music stands on its own merits. It will appeal to the open minded music fan looking for something positive and refreshing, but may not appeal to those who insist on technical complexity and 20-minute epics.