There are two distinct sides to Sequoyah’s album Spells: the quickly-delivered T-Rex-style pop n’ soul side, and then the slow-burning folk one. Both are equal in fire, soul and cool to the touch. The songs are threaded together so that they blend one into the other forming one continuous sound. It discourages one to put the album on shuffle for that reason, but makes it great for old-school listeners who miss the touch of vinyl on their ears. The production quality on Spells is impeccable; it has a 60s Phil Spector quality to it, as if the band is recording in a small high school gymnasium or tile bathroom with perfect acoustics.
The soulful pop side of Spells is filled with memorable rock anthems that could knock the socks off of any fan of bands like Gaslight Anthem or Hockey. “Witch of the South” has a dollop of soul-drenched rock gospel and guitars. The lead singer’s voice goes into this high acapella squeal-of-a-corner. There is a catchy and lulling guitar bass line that makes the song quite memorable. The end of the song has the electric guitar going off a cliff of notes. “Witch of the South” is a powerful album-opener which raises the bar for the remainder of the album; fortunately, the band delivers on this promise.
Equally anthemic and cathartic is “Hands in the Dirt.” The song starts off acapella with some light acoustic guitars, and then slowly builds into a chorus of fuzzy rhythm guitars, a choir for singing the chorus parts, along with some casual whistles. “Hands in the Dirt” ‘s delicate intensity would be a great candidate for television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Two crowd favorites will no doubt be “Long Winded Woman” and “Do What I Do”; the former is one-part T-Rex à la “Mambo Sun,” one-part southern soul pop. The lead singer’s voice is like a big megaphone (with pulpit en tow), fusing modern rock with old-school 60s/70s rock sounds. “Do What I Do” borrows a country rhythm which is more like “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” Doors-country than alt-country. It has a quick and hooky delivery, and would actually make a great concert opener.
“Side two” of Spells kicks off with “Smokin’ Again,” a respite from the soulful rock mayhem of Spells, “Side one.” With the slo-burning vocals and backing organs, “Smokin’ Again” shows off the band’s folk Americana roots unburied by large rock anthem riffs, but unfurled in a tender ballad.
“Grass Grows Green” is another lulling ballad lead by a moderate tempo piano, whose lyrics are filled with a hopeless hope that things will change for the better. One wonders whether or not the song is referring to the band when these lyrics are delivered. The song ends abruptly without a bridge almost sounding incomplete after the first listen. Listeners might feel short-changed by its brevity, or, enraptured by its sweet abruptness.
Some of the other more memorable songs off the second half of Spells are “About Rain, Too”, “Jerusalem” and “Suits.” “About Rain, Too” has a spare arrangement of vocal, drum and rhythm guitar. The vibraphone-esque keyboard chord fills are delicate and vibrant adding a mystical and somber Neil Diamond-like dimension to the songs (think the original “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman”).
“Jerusalem” has a soul-injected whirly keyboard that pushes the song forward along with the slurring and sliding rhythm guitar lines. The song is about finding faith, something to believe in; it’s the perfect concert-closer and perhaps, soundtrack, for the band that is on the road all year round.
“Suits” funeral march tempo is easily the slowest song off of the record. The vocals are delivered in an intense, dark shade of vibrato. The gospel organs also help darken the song’s misty vibe, while the trumpet solo towards the end of the song is like a helping of southern Kaddish.
While Sequoyah’s sound is rooted in 60s and 70s Americana, its sound is authentic, organic and not to be missed. Fans of T-Rex, M Ward, Conor Oberst and Hockey will not be disappointed and should buy tickets when these guys come to town.