The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade
2011, Reprise Records
Brother and sister Ethan and Barbara Gruska are the heart of The Belle Brigade. Releasing their self-titled debut today via Reprise Records, the pair have earned comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. The Belle Brigade displays a band with a distinct sense of melody, but moreover a pair of voices that blend in nearly supernatural fashion. It’s no surprise, music runs in Ethan and Barbara Gruska’s genes. Their father is composer Jay Gruska, and their father is non other than the incomparable film composer John Williams.
The Belle Brigade opens with "Sweet Louise", a catchy, low-key folk rocker with country accents. The song is a simple declaration of love you won't be able to shake, full of great harmonies and driven by the exceedingly pleasant vocals of Ethan. "Where Not To Look For Freedom" is a catchy rocker reminiscent of early Elton John in style and energy. It's a vibrant, active tune that grabs your attention. "Losers" shows off a notable skill at orchestration, but the incessantly repetitive chorus wears thin. "Shirt" features Ethan and Barbara in a distinctive duet. Barbara stands out for pure sound, but when the two voices combine they wrap around each other like lovers. This blend is sonically appealing and helps build the song from into an urgent and edgy rocker.
"Lucky Guy" follows the series of lucky rolls that grow out of an inauspicious beginning of life. The active folk/rock arrangement is appealing, and The Belle Brigade offers it up with great energy without going over the top. You won't be able to sit/stand still through this song. "Lonely Lonely" features the sort of great pop chorus that turns into chart gold. The Belle Brigade changes things up with the moody and introspective "Punch Line", exploring feelings of being forgotten as a child. Ethan delivers a highly emotive vocal here that drives the weight of the song home. Barbara takes the mic on "Rusted Wheel" in a memorable performance aided by a brilliant melody line. Listeners will want to hear more of her. The Gruskas combine again on "My Goodness", blending their voices once again in a low key but ultimately accessible number that's likely to be a fan favorite. The Belle Brigade bows with "Fasten You To Me". Barbara brings listeners to the door with an exquisite performance in the surprisingly mellow closer.
The Belle Brigade is surprisingly subtle and nuanced on their eponymous debut. Rock n roll, pop and folk music influences inform the songwriting on The Belle Brigade, driven by a distinctive ear for melody and interplay and the fine voices of Ethan and Barbara. The Belle Brigade don't create the initial impression of a band who will catch fire right away, but rather an act that will warm up slowly and burn for a long, long time. The intricacies of the songwriting process are very much alive on The Belle Brigade, but this is a band that is still figuring out just what they are capable of. This is a great start.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)