September, 2007, West Coast Performer Magazine
By Michael Fortes
Born in San Francisco and raised in Los Angeles, Amateurs’ sound is not traceable to either city. There’s a decidedly rural element to the recordings on the band’s first full-length release, Speak Easy, as evidenced by the copious use of violin and viola to create a sound reminiscent of old time country and western music. Yet, with support of rock guitar and percussion, the album covers more ground than the traditional country of Hank Williams, Sr.
Before the acoustic guitars and high lonesome sound really kick in, however, the band gets what sounds like their single out of the way. “Omaha Nights” comes off like a rootsy version of The Shins, with a melody that one can retain much more easily than picking out the lyrics. After this deceptive little pop opening, the album starts veering off in different directions. A wash of vocal harmonies introduces the next song, “Atlantis,” and suddenly everything has changed. This is where the sonic identity of Speak Easy really begins. The sparse percussion takes the listener straight into nighttime, with violin adding to the dark mood. It’s the lead vocals that say the most though, and not even through actual words. Notes are bent and stretched, rooting the music in the blues.
“Six Days” and “Maple” add more sonic diversity with their odd meters, but the real depth and breadth of Amateurs’ sound shows up in their instrumentals. “Cigarettes” is especially engaging as bass drum, acoustic guitar, violin and viola intertwine to produce a calming effect. It could be mistaken for a loose jam if not for the careful manner in which the strings are played together. Two more instrumentals, the murky “Submariners” and an unlisted selection entitled “Hoedown,” round out the album. It’s a winning mix of styles, making Speak Easy a compelling listen from beginning to end.