Guthries Off Windmill

An astonishing debut from this Nova Scotian collective. With six band members - three lead vocalists and a revolving drum stool, as well as string and horn players - Off Windmill is a remarkably focused first album. Unlike so many pretenders, the Guthries' take on alt-country sounds remarkably natural, with lush backing vocals ("Rhubarb Pie") and effortless placement of horns, strings, an assortment of keyboards, banjos, etc. There are echoes of bands like the Delgados and Son Volt, but the Guthries have considerably more soul than either of those examples; they'd make a great double bill with equally convincing Edmontonians Old Reliable. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Mays is the strongest of the three vocalists, especially on the opening "Better Part of an Hour," while Ruth Minnikin has a droll Julie Doiron-esque delivery that works for and against her - notably on the tedious "Sooner or Later," which drags to a close much later than sooner. The hour-long album could use some editing, but overall is entirely satisfying and refreshing. (Brobdingnagian)