The Restoration – Constance

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I guess I have this thing about “concept” albums.  Whether it’s a mood concept by Sinatra or lyrical bloat by Genesis, there’s something appealing about an album that intentionally attempts to work all of its songs around some purpose.  This is probably why, in recent years, I’ve taken a keen liking to Micah Dalton’s Pawn Shop, Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep, and The Waterboys’ An Appointment with Mr. Yeats.

To be certain, I favor creative packaging.  Given all the fantastic album art of decades ago, with vinyl was enclosed in canvas sized sleeves, I shake my head at what some bands choose to leave as a visual legacy, of sorts, to their musical work. 

Lastly, I’ll note that I grew up in South Carolina, more noted for the first State to secede from the Union than a musical birthplace.   Those who take a look would find surprising depth beyond The Marshall Tucker Band and Hootie & The Blowfish.   Still, it’s a blip on the musical map.

Back to packaging.  Voila!


The freaking envelope was addressed with care.  Yes, I knew I was ordering an accompanying book.  No, I did not know I was getting an appreciation note from one of the band members (the signature I read as the initials of the band.)

The book includes lyrics (no brainer), black and white photos from the Lexington, SC area, a short story regarding one of the characters, and, to round it out, a fictional family tree, a timeline, and detailed song credits.  Oh, and a town map.  This is a labor of love, from start to finish.

So, as I have not yet begun to comment on the music, is this (concept yet to be explained) musically pretentious à la Rick Wakeman, lyrically preposterous à la Peter Gabriel, or a melding of vision and purpose à la The Dark Side of the Moon?

Fortunately, Constance falls in the last category.  After the initial presentation, the disappointment would have been even greater. 

As the band’s name might suggest, the era is the post-Civil War South.  Specifically, as the return address would suggest, Lexington, SC.  There is a narrative to the 12 songs, each sung in a particular character’s perspective.   A musical daughter, who marries outside her race.  A father, who works himself to an early grave.  Their son,  who suffers racism (“boy your color is white but your blood’s what ain’t right”).  A childhood friend, who dies in WW1.  A minister whose spirituality is broken from the evils of the Civil War.  A Confederate officer, outwardly successful but inwardly tormented.  And there is, of course, a story that ties the threads together.

That story, notably, is only supplemented by the book.  The lyrics are sufficient, and they are as thoughtfully and carefully crafted as I’ve heard, possibly ever.  There are no wasted words, and no shortage, either.   It’s usually poetic, and not the type that leans to easy rhymes or vacuous stanzas.  Take Constance, on just one of several laments on the passing of her husband:

Brutal, heavy wedding ring:
Pulls me to its mate beneath my feet.
Your ring forever in the ground,
Mine that pulls my living fingers down.

There’s lyrical brilliance here, such as a man’s obsessive fixation of a woman in church expressed in images of her little round shoes.  Dreams, guilt, racism, death... amidst different, if not flawed, convictions on matters of faith.   The spiritual aspects cannot be missed here, starting with the first song which leaps from a hymnal through the characters’ travails that frequently call on God for support.

And what about the music, then?   Perfect, I say.   You might point towards the reach of the Decemberists, or the pulsing drive of Arcade Fire, but it’s thankfully neither.  There’s not a song in here that I would want to hear in a random playlist shuffle.  But they’re fit as a whole, and are quite enjoyable.

While so many artists fashion their sound after “Americana,” it actually fits here.  From the opening hymnal, its clear that the sound is suited to the era.   It’s a cappella, and have no fear of studio enhanced vocals for modern effects.   And as surprising as the start is (in both its style and lyrical foundation), from the second song you understand that you didn’t get the wrong CD.   

Musically, acoustic guitar and violin dominate, but piano, drums, bass, banjo, and organ are woven expertly, not in the sense of a perfect sound, but in the sense of providing music which is perfectly suited to the action and emotion of each song.  When one considers titles such as “The Murder of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer” and “The Lynching,” this isn’t a folksy, hand-clapping tribute to the music of days gone by.  Much of it is beautiful.   And none of it is boring.

The album can be heard in its entirety at the band’s website.   Expand your horizons; give it a listen.  It’s remarkable and deserves an audience, a growing one.

5 of 5 STARS

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