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RIYL: Band of Horses, Pete Yorn, Arcade Fire, Ryan Adams
Track 3- Union Station
Track 5- Scotland
Track 7- Houses
Track 10- All That I’ve Wasted
The Belle Jar may have started out as a solo project for singer/songwriter Ryan James, but Union Station is a step out of the singer/songwriter niche and a step into to full-band folk goodness. Now a six-piece, The Belle Jar fill out their instrumentation with just about anything you could hope to hear (violins, ukulele, banjo, pedal steel).
James has the unique ability to write really delicate, meaningful songs that are still packed with energy. You can hear the sentimentality in his voice on songs like “Union Station,” but you still find yourself tapping your foot and nodding your head.
Folky though the album may be, when the band fills out their sound with electric guitar, the result is a really satisfying, clear rock sound that’s more Arcade Fire or Counting Crows than true folk. Likewise, when the violins act more as an embellishment than a leading instrument, (“Scotland”) the result is balladry that transcends folk classifications to create the type of song you might expect from Secondhand Serenade or Dashboard Confessional. “Scotland” may not be the type of song that reinvents a genre, but the yearning harmonies and crooning falsettos present an undeniably beautiful vulnerability.
“Houses” is an up-tempo, acoustic jam that tears a page straight out of Counting Crows’ book of tricks. A four-on-the-floor feel and R.E.M.-like harmonies propel the track forward. This song, the album’s quiet standout track, captures the essence of the band. Taking both the songwriting sensibilities and a knack for crafting simple-but-hypnotizing melodies from artists like the brilliant Ryan Adams, the Belle Jar mold a sound that’s modern folk and edgier alt-rock melted together into a really interesting, refreshing mix.