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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Mark Radcliffe - The Sea Before Us

Mark Radcliffe - The Sea Before Us
2009 Mark Radcliffe/Denzer Productions

Mark Radcliffe didn’t follow the usual path to becoming a singer/songwriter. He didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 17; he spent much of his Maine childhood playing sports instead. Even then, the guitar was more of a hobby than a calling. Radcliffe spent ten years between stings as a teacher and traveling writer. These experiences allowed Radcliffe to finally enter the singer/songwriter stage of his life more seasoned than your typical wannabe pop star. This might explain the smooth, wizened feel of the songs on The Sea Before Us, Radcliffe’s sophomore album. With nods to acts like The Eagles and Jackson Browne, Radcliffe spins tails of love and loss in easy, cultured pop arrangements that are hard not to like.

The Sea Before Us opens with the easy strains of "In The Sun", a gentle daydream of a song about escaping the things that trouble you. It's a solid arrangement that's easy on the ears. "Other Side Of The Pillow" is a rueful lamentation on love lost. It carries with it a tune that will stick out in your mind. "Blow It All Away" is a catchy tune about tending what you have (because you never know when it could be stripped away). It's a solid premise and well-delivered with touches of light pop and singer/songwriter pastiche.

"Miss Hard To Forget" is pure pop gold; a song about chance meetings that happen in line that often result in a smile but nothing more. Radcliffe imagines what would happen if he actually ventured forth for more than that smile. It's an entertaining tune that will wrap itself up inside your mind and not leave for days. "One Foot Out The Door" bemoans a relationship where one partner isn't fully invested; a decent light pop tune that's a little bit deeper than your typical "this relationship isn't working" song.

"Breaking Up The Band" is the document of a watershed moment in life: the moment when you realize it's okay to let go of your current association(s) and look for something new. This song is put in the context of a band, but could easily be a metaphor for a relationship. Solid pop songwriting lies at the base of this tune, with great hooks and an upbeat chorus that stays with you. Radcliffe winds up The Sea Before Us with "No Time To Lose", a song about the small chances we can take that make huge differences in our lives. In this case the protagonist sees a beautiful girl every day on the train, and after many close encounters makes an attempt to reach out. It's not a happy ever after song; the most that we learn is that they're having dinner, but the song exhorts listeners to take chances; to reach out, because you never know what will happen.

The Sea Before Us is intriguing. Mark Radcliffe invests a lot of positive energy in the album, but it doesn't become the sort of hokey posi-pop that you see pushed by some artists. Radcliffe writes intelligent, nuanced pop songs that range from mellow story-songs to reserved rockers you can just about dance to. Radcliffe's sense of melody and composition are both highly developed, and he's able to express himself in lyrics that are both poetic and accessible. The Sea Before Us is a very solid listening experience.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Mark Radcliffe at or The Sea Before Us is available as either a CD or Download from CDBaby. Digital copies are also available through iTunes.

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