Waking Eyes Combing the Clouds

Two years ago, unknown Steinbach melodic-pop commodity the Pets emerged from rural Manitoba with Love & War - a debut CD of surprising quality and substance. The disc garnered favourable reviews across the board, although the highest praise (bestowed by some of those notoriously fickle Brit critics, no less) came after the band's unceremonious break-up. In many respects, this debut CD by Winnipeg's Waking Eyes picks up right where the Pets left off. That's not too big of a surprise, given former Pets Matt Peters and Myron Schulz comprise two-thirds of the new-ish unit. Novillero trumpeter Rusty Matyas (last seen buoying Duotang's live cross-country revue) rounds out the trio. Whereas Peters and Schulz's last project seemed to draw its inspiration from all things 1967, the Waking Eyes' peripheral vision catches more than a passing glance of the '70s. Forays into AM-ready, easy listening territory are, however, only part of the Combing the Clouds experience. Clever, hook-laden arrangements and top-notch playing typify the disc, which, in addition to confirming Peters and Schulz's talents, showcases Matyas' varied musical abilities beyond the same-y Herb Alpert routine. Though at times difficult to determine which of the three artists is singing on a particular track (sharing duties is a key element here), someone does a mean Billy Joel, be that intentional or otherwise. (I think it's Matyas, since the Piano Man was nowhere to be found in the Pets oeuvre.) Queen enjoys a send-up here too, as the Eyes guys delight in having cracked the code behind Brian May's buzz-chime guitar sound as well as that group's soaring, operatic back-up vocal harmonies. If that sounds like a turn-off, take comfort in the fact the trio appreciates the value of brevity, especially when it comes to aping Freddy Mercury. Other choice moments include a convincing attempt at Dixieland and a handful of Abbey Road worthy nods tastefully scattered throughout the disc's dozen tracks. The only aspect of this exceptional debut recording not handled in-house is the drumming. For that, the band called on the solid services of Novillero beat-keeper David Berthiaume and Pets kit kid Steve Senkiw. (Endearing)