Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Unlike the lumbering animal that figures prominently in the band’s name, this Colorado quintet’s acoustic approach remains nimble on its collective feet. Now, nearly a decade into its career, Elephant Revival’s hippy-dippy, flowers-and-feathers-in-their-hair folk/world/gypsy/jazz/singer-songwriter approach on their fourth studio album doesn’t sound markedly different than on its 2008 debut.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the vibe and vocals remain distinctive enough to carry the weight of songs that can be a little slight. Even with three singers the vocals, either solo or duet, are subtle, affable and unassuming which dovetails well with the predominantly dialed-down music. Frontwoman Bonnie Paine’s shy, retiring voice is effective on the opening “Hello You Who” love song, but over the course of her intermittent contributions to about half the tunes, the fragility begins to wear thin. Interestingly, the album’s toughest rhythmic attack comes on “When I Fall,” which is also its most spiritual moment. Lyrically, themes of introspective drifting along with physical and philosophical loss are bathed in a positive light.
There is a classical/world beat thread to songs such as the title track that nudge at Elephant Revival’s established groove even as you often wish they would move further outside their comfort zone and further test the waters. Individually, the songs are tuneful and undeniably melodic, yet after a modest 35 minutes, they blend into each other, a criticism that can also be aimed at the act’s other albums. It’s possible there may be a quirky “Ho Hey” type hit hidden here to quickly shift Revival from cult to crossover appeal.
Existing fans will doubtlessly enjoy another warm, fuzzy, touchy-feely, earthy entry in a catalog that thrives on that. While no one expects an elephant to suddenly transform into a swan, and despite the band disputing it in interviews, Petals feels just a little too much like its predecessors to be considered anything but another respectable entry into musically diverse territory the band has already tilled.