Audreys When the Flood Comes

Since the release of ’06s Between Last Night and Us, the Audreys have seen their star rise, partially due to alt-country’s wanderlust for old-timey music. The juxtaposition of Taasha Coate’s stunning vocals with a backdrop of frenetically played banjo, acoustic bass and guitar, mandolin and violin seemed to corral a genre-defying breed of gypsy-fired bluegrass that could only be the product of their native Australia — old-timey, with a boot in the ass. On this outing, also produced by Rebecca’s Empire’s Shane O’Mara, the strategy has changed dramatically. All ears are fixed on Coates’ lush vocal instrument, with a reduced dependence on the band’s contribution (and the resulting chemistry). While Flood underlines the strengths of Coates’ phenomenal voice, it suffers from an overly sophisticated approach that has mixed down much of the band’s usual role. Coates can obviously enthral the listener all by her lonesome, but the reduced energy level on the resulting dozen tracks darkens the mood and turns things somewhat dreary. Coates’ innate ability to arouse works hardest given her playful side — you can’t help but think she doesn’t crave the comparably loose nature of her band mates. There are exceptions, thankfully. The breathy vocal on "Sally and the Preacher” is driven by Tristan Goodall’s powerful guitar work (given a Chris Isaak-edged reverb). The disc’s best track is the almost hymnal "Here He Lies,” as Coates clones Emmylou at her most rootsy, the band filling in with banjo, violin and sousaphone as the song unfolds. That these dozen songs are all-originals demonstrates the tireless magic connection between writers Coates and Goodall. What remains to be seen is how new fans and old will respond to this more sophisticated production. For my money, the band’s greatest potential lies in the fun-loving approach leveraged on their previous one. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Warner)