Count with me. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Coldplay.
That’s right. Eight words in, and ALREADY Coldplay was mentioned as a point of comparison. Fortunately for Blue Merle’s lead singer Luke Reynolds, the comparison is a compliment, although the resemblance is uncanny. I have to admit, when I first heard the single “Burning in the Sun” (from the album of the same name) on WFUV, I thought it was a leaked track from “X&Y”, the forthcoming release from Mr. Martin and Co.
Reynolds’ vocals leap to the forefront on most of the tracks, which generally cover the same emotional and aural landscapes as mellow Brit-poppers Travis and Verve. It is impossible, however, to listen to Reynolds and NOT think that this is Coldplay. Between the delivery, timbre and lyrical style, the only thing differentiating Blue Merle’s brand of acoustic rock is the fiddle. Yes, the fiddle.
The unsung hero of this band is Billy Contreras, who, according to the credits, is NOT a permanent member, yet his fiddle work (sorry, had to pause and chuckle as I re-read “fiddle work”) adds the only original element to these songs. Contreras appears on nine of Burning in the Sun‘s twelve tracks, and by track three, I was looking forward to his appearance on each upcoming song. Tastefully performed, his contributions lie somewhere between Lisa Germano and Boyd Tinsley. Which is a good thing, since that’s largely what this band needs: a lead instrument to punctuate the DMB-esque ballads while adding a pinch of “Americana” that those Brits just don’t seem to want to capture.
On the whole, Burning in the Sun is a solid first effort, thanks in part to the crystal-clear production of Stephen Harris. Upon further investigation, I learned that Harris has previously worked with the Dave Matthews Band and Kula Shaker, which may tell you all you need to know. Any fan of the aforementioned bands will enjoy the pleasantries of the Merle. It may not make commercial sense for them to separate from the flock just yet, but for the sake of originality and a longer shelf-life, they may have their work cut out for them come “sophomore album”-time. Who knows….originality may be overrated these days. Keep on keepin’ on, Billy Contreras.