It may be no coincidence that Summer Hymns chose Clemency as the title for its latest album. While most people associate the word these days with a governor's mercy toward death row inmates, this Athens, Georgia alt-country band clearly prefers the alternate meaning: mildness. The 14 songs on the album, the group's third, are so relaxed and woozy, it's a wonder the musicians themselves don't fall asleep.
Bandleader Zachary Gresham's songs tend to hover in the folk-rock tradition, somewhere between the efficient acoustic anthems of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and the stretched-out, pedal-steel-driven ballads of Neil Young. Unlike those eccentric icons, though, Gresham keeps his material in the earthly realm of the everyday schmoe: no Incas and Mayans, no American aquarium drinkers. Rather, Gresham builds a love song about being "tough as nails" from childhood baseball memories, on "Pete Rose's Affinity."
Ultimately, Summer Hymns impress more with their familiar aesthetic than they do with any ingenuity. You feel like you've heard these classic-rock-inspired songs many times before. That doesn't mean the band can't head to a more original place; "Eye's" still counts as folk, but its arrangement, with organs and somber harmonies, sounds as though it was lifted from Surf's Up-era Beach Boys (?!).
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