Led by Dave Heumann, Arbouretum doesn’t beat around the bush. Out of the gate they make it very clear exactly what rock ‘n’ roll means to them: huge melodies, rolling rhythms, noisy solos, and few introspective moments for good measure. Over eight concise songs, the band wrings the guitar for everything its worth and then some.
There’s nothing very complicated about Song of the Pearl and that’s a great part of its appeal. The opening song, “False Spring,” launches the album into epic rock ‘n’ roll territory without a hiccup or second thought. With its galloping rhythm and soaring vocal melodies, Arbouretum start with a clear musical declaration and they never deviate from it. They’re not as psychedelic on this record as one might expect, but what they lack in hallucinatory power they more than make up for with pure muscle and great songwriting. In fact, every song on here benefits from the band’s tight and direct approach. The bass lines are thick and impenetrable, the solos are more chaotic than structured, and the verses are potent slabs of syncopated rhythm. Heumann contributes line after line of confident singing, too; his lyrics are vividly and potently delivered on each song, sounding a bit more bold than he did on Rites of Uncovering. This group has the same kind of untamed and messy power you’d expect from a band like Crazy Horse, but there’s some very un-garage influences on the record.
Song of the Pearl isn’t just a brute force experience. The first half of the album is smoky and atmospheric; blues and folk music both figure heavily into the songs that follow “False Spring.” The title song is reminiscent of Fairport Convention in some ways, with elegant string arrangements supporting Heumann’s sentimental lyrics and the band’s clean, simple accompaniment. In contrast, “Another Hiding Place” is a simmering electric piece that rests on the strength of a strong rhythm section and simple vocals; it never quite erupts, but it isn’t a powerhouse of a song in the way that some of the other tunes are. The point is that the album starts big, but is kept tight and diverse thanks to the numerous approaches Arbouretum bring to their guitar-centric songwriting.
The second half of the album is where all the driving energy of the first song continues. On “Infinite Corridors,” drummer Daniel Franz is let loose; his cascading fills and nuanced dynamics add a great deal to this song. Not content to simply keep time, his contributions mean just as much to Song of the Pearl as the guitars do. His drumming from start to finish is considerate and economical; with repeated listening it becomes obvious just how much he adds to the music. The record concludes with a stunning take on Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” Keeping the original’s brooding and lonely quality, Arbouretum amplify it and lend a deep, doom-like rumble to its quietude. Reverberating guitars carry the song’s lead melody into slow, lonesome territory and those ringing strings help close the album on a desolate and retrospective note. It’s a very affecting song and one of the best on the record. If any complaints can be made, it’s that some of the production is a little flat. The upbeat songs on the disc all share a similar aesthetic, which is to be expected, but had the production been opened up a little bit the album might have benefitted.