With a band named ‘The Nautical Theme’ comprising a duo of piano and vocals (Tesia Mallory) and guitar and vocals (Matt Shetler) this might make the casual browser think they were about to stroll into folk territory, probably with shanties ahoy. Well, the modern folk territory is spot on, but prepare yourself for the curved ball – even with tracks titled ‘Sinking Fast’ and ‘Jump Out Of The Water’ this album recorded in Dayton Ohio couldn’t be further from the sea.
When Plant & Kraus had completed the ‘Raising Sand’ project, The Civil Wars stepped neatly into the gap that had been created, and since The Civil Wars split there has been a longer queue of duos and male/female fronted bands vying to step into that sudden void. The Nautical Theme can be viewed as one of these contenders for the crown – although it seems unlikely that anyone will ever hit those heady heights again. Between them Plant, Kraus and The Civil Wars created a sizeable sub-genre of Americana – there’s now the room and the audiences for many more duos, the downside to that being that no-one gets to be quite so dominant.
There’s a lot of gloss and energy to The Nautical Theme – a typical song will power through a couple of good hooks, will bring in some unusual counterpoint melodies and will expand Mallory and Shelter into a glorious vocal depth through multi-overdubs. ‘Float’ is a fine and musically accomplished example of modern folk, Mallory’s piano often steering the sound closer to a singer-songwriter groove and away from glitzy country, although there are some familiar themes from there of restless love (‘Couldn’t Have Said’), uptempo carpe diem-isms (‘One Long Day and Night’), and the disintegrating disappointing relationship (‘Can’t You Just’). The fuzzed up aggression of ‘What We Deserve’ nicely recalls long missed bands like March of Dimes, mixing anger with self-doubt. The closer ‘So Long Dear’ is unaccompanied voices, it’s unexpected and anchors the album down firmly in those folk roots.
The Nautical Theme bring a pop sensibility to modern folk with mostly winning results.