HGR CD Review: The Clarks

THE CLARKS – FEATHERS & BONES (Clarkhouse Entertainment) Closing in on three decades together as a band, Pittsburgh rock music institution The Clarks still are capable of showing a few new wrinkles in their sound, evidenced by their ninth studio album, Feathers & Bones. Reliably still the foursome of singer/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist/singer Rob James, bassist/singer Greg Joseph and drummer/singer David Minarek; The Clarks still generate that comfortably familiar blend of catchy, punchy rock and acoustic tones that fans have grown accustomed to over the first eight albums. But continuing where their last album, 2009’s Restless Days, left off; The Clarks again dabble in country flavors as well, and mix a few unexpected twists into Feathers & Bones’ eleven tracks. The group’s songwriting is more personal, with lyrics tying into themes of family and personal loss. Penned by Joseph, the opening title track “Feathers & Bones” comes to terms with the loss of a loved one, as does the album’s closing track,” the slow-evolving “Broken Dove.” Several songs deal with stardom and the limelight; the rural-toned “Irene” tells a tale of innocence lost to stardom, the hard-charging “Map of the Stars” plots out the map to music scene conquest, and another country-toned ode, “Magazine,” reflects during the ride back down the hill from the limelight. The Clarks still deliver plenty of punch, evidenced by the explosive choruses of “All or Nothing,” the raucous mischief of “Nothing Good Happens After Midnight,” and the boisterous country-rock of “Take Care of You.” As expected, The Clarks execute like a well-tuned machine, and the performances are strong and inspired. Guest pedal steel player Gary Jacob and keyboardist/accordionist Skip Sanders flesh out the more rural-sounding moments on the album, and guest singers Joy Brown, Bernice Wilkerson and Noah Minarek add depth to the vocals. Produced by Sean McDonald, Feathers & Bones sounds clean, balanced, and ultimately – like a Clarks album. This group has been around long enough to understand their turf and how to expand upon it; and with Feathers & Bones, The Clarks retain their signature style and sound, while freshening it and keeping it invigorating. In the best tradition of their past output, this is another feel-good Clarks outing. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.clarksonline.com.)