Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: Twilight Hotel - Highway Prayer


Released: January 29, 2008

It's not often that I find a record that offers as much musically as it does lyrically (unless, of course, it's bad at both). On Highway Prayer, it's hard to decide which Twilight Hotel does better. The songs fill the whole spectrum from the fun, upbeat opener, "Viva La Vinyl," a song about record collecting, to the stark, longing closer, "Sand in Your Eyes," which pleads, "I want you to be my muse again, pull all the beauty from me that you can."

The most striking thing about Twilight Hotel are the vocal harmonies of Brandy Zdan and Dave Quanbury. Perhaps the intimacy of their personal relationship brings their voices together in a special way, but whatever the reason, they have an innate sense of each other as singers. Even apart, they each have great movement in their voices and together that movement creates color and texture. The instrumentation behind the vocals might not jump out, but is superb nonetheless and equally at home with blues, country, Latin, cabaret, pop or whatever road the song takes. This isn't the typical session musician ability to play flawlessly in many styles, but a true connection with the music. It's the kind of near-perfection that never sounds slick, because it's far too human.

Lyrically, they can convey everything from good times to quiet desperation, running the full range of human emotion. The title track walks successfully through the difficult landscape of the often misused travel metaphor. "No Place for a Woman" could almost be mistaken for sexy, yet tells the harrowing story of a woman working in the male-dominated world of coal mining. The real gem is "The Ballad of Salvadore and Isabelle." This is protest music the way it should be done (and is done by the best). It doesn't rail against the system. It doesn't scream, "Revolution!" Instead, it tells a story, a sad story that is likely all too based in reality. The protest is implicit in the story, but never supersedes it, because the story, the characters, the human part are paramount over ideology. The ugliness in the song isn't ugly because the band doesn't like it, but because it violates human dignity. In these days where celebrity "protest" has become common, there are quite a few who could take a lesson from Twilight Hotel.

Highway Prayer is musically rich and lyrically vivid, a combination that makes it accessible to almost anyone, because it can connect on so many levels. Whether dark or bright, protest or party, the songs are consistently colorful and manage to find equal success in being bold and subtle. Even the untitled instrumental tacked onto the end is played with soul.

Satriani - 8/10
Zappa - 6/10
Dylan - 7/10
Aretha - 8/10
Overall - 8/10



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