If ever there was a group that stuck to what it knew, it would most certainly be pop/rock outfit Smalltown Poets. In 1997 they unveiled their debut, an impressive collection of pop/modern rock gems a la secular act Matchbox 20. A year later came Listen Closely, a little edgier but nevertheless a very similar sounding record. It would be two years (and significant band restructuring) later before Third Verse.
The strongest draw on this album is the vocals, period. Michael Johnston has flawless delivery especially on softer-sounding songs like "Any Other Love." Album opener "Every Reason" is arguably the heaviest song the band has ever performed, with a wailing guitar intro and heavier, modern-rock choruses. It and pop/rock gem "Firefly" have radio-friendly written all over them. "Clean" has smart lyrics woven into an ultra-catchy chorus. Unfortunately, that's where most of the genius stops. The rest of the record (with the exception of "The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life") follows a predictable (and in the case of "Waterfall," absurd) pattern. It just sounds more desperate than deep. However, the entire record is saved by "That Line," arguably the best rock song Smalltown has ever done. With heavy, melodic guitars and poignant lyrics about walking with God, the song pages earlier, more enjoyable Smalltown Poets.
There's enough here to please pop/rock fans and even maybe to convert new ones. But Smalltown Poets can do better. They have done better. And my gut tells me they will.JFH Reader Review: Review date: 8/24/04, written by Samuel James for Jesusfreakhideout.com.
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