If there’s one thing about The Fall Comes Early that I’m thankful for, it’s how inaccurate the expectations set by the prevailing bleakness of both the cover art and the song titles are. For in the hands of Jo Henley, such a whine-fest would defy any earthly measures of annoying. No, Jo Henley is a reasonably jaunty roots rock band and The Fall Comes Early is a reasonably jaunty roots rock record replete with night-drive country love songs and optimistic life reflections backed by acoustic guitar and banjo. However, the only way I seem to be able to come up with true compliments for the album is by imagining worse possibilities.

Lead singer Andy Campolieto has one of those pitch-perfect male voices that barely fluctuate, the kind that automatically evokes a layer of detestable smugness. And the opener, “It Can’t Rain All The Time,” sounds like a bona fide Christian rock track, due more to the combination of his vocals and the contrived instrumentals than to the lyrics. Next to that, the lowest depth it sinks to is “Nothing Lasts Forever,” which features disproportionately melodramatic lyrics about mighty fallen empires and the ghosts of men who came before. Luckily, the brunt of the nightmare is limited to these two tracks.

The centerpiece, an eight-minute instrumental titled “Big City,” does offer some reprieve with its upbeat acoustic guitar and glimmering piano that evoke some space like an open field. It would be considerably prettier if its length and the uniform cleanliness of the tones didn’t make me feel as if I was on hold with customer service. The simple virtue of not being aggressively bad is not an automatic savior from unbearable blandness. But, given the choice, I’d still opt for sweet forgettability. Perhaps it’s a blessing that it’s so easy to tune out.

In A Word: Insipid

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