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D. Charles Speer followed up his solo debut with an ensemble performance, one that drew on sessions recorded simultaneously with the work on Some Forgotten Country. Giving some country-rooted classic rock undertow to his explorations in various styles, After Hours, perhaps by default, seems like it would be less adventurous in comparison, but in fact the Helix, his four-piece backing band, is more than able to follow along. Opening "Fossilized" shows this in a neat fashion when the mid-song break turns the steady punch of the song into a mix of cascading guitar wails and a strong, piano-and-drum-led arrangement. Keyboardist Hans Chew may well be the secret weapon of the album — if there's a perhaps understandable comparison to be made with the Band here, given Speer and company's embrace of old and new Americana in general, there are plenty of great fills and strong performances on songs like "Single Again" and "Past or Beyond." Meanwhile, Speer himself takes a clearer role here as lead singer than he did on Some Forgotten Country; instrumentals are set aside, giving his deep, contemplative singing, almost like a smoother Mark Lanegan, a chance to shine song for song. The entrancing musical air of his acoustic performances similarly takes a back step to more overtly electric ones, but there are exceptions like "Sit Right There," with its mesmerizing blend of mandolin and guitar later matched with a muffled, powerful drum stomp. If Speer's solo work stands out more at this point, he's doing a good yeoman's job in a familiar style with the Helix , and it'll be interesting to see where he goes with it.

After Hours, D. Charles Speer & the Helix
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