monoblogue music: “Heartbeat Serenade” by CommonUnion59

This forthcoming release may be one of the more unusual I’ve reviewed so far – not because it breaks any really unique ground, but it is one of the more varied albums I’ve heard in some time.

CommonUnion59 is essentially the San Farancisco-based duo of Steve McKenzie and Laura Malazig. Although they use the talents of drummer Kevin Hayes and bassist Jake Leckie on this ten-track collection, the bulk of the musicianship and all of the vocals come from this duo. Most of the songs have some element of harmony to them, but Malazig handles the lead on seven of the ten songs – the title song Heartbeat Serenade and Today are two of the exceptions where McKenzie is the lead. Both sing in harmony on It’s Alright, the opening song.

It’s Alright begins this second album from the duo, following the 2012 album “Magnolia Waltz” with a country-rock sound that could be the most radio-friendly one. They return to their folk roots on the next song, American Dream, but change direction once again for the haunting The River Song. There is a definite lack of predictability in these first few songs.

They return to a little familiar territory with From Where We Are, which echoes the opening track by pushing back into that harmonious country-rock genre, but then the tragic story of Little White House grabs the listener in a very simple manner.

Tracks six and seven of the ten-song set are the two where McKenzie sings lead, and I found Heartbeat Serenade evoked a psychedelic 1960s feel to it, sort of Beatlesque in a way hard to describe. Today also felt as if it was taken from a bygone era.

The duo returns to its folk roots in the relatively brief ballad Catch The Wind before the piano-based Not Dead Inside opens up toward the end to be a more mainstream song. I think that would be a crowd favorite as a live song. But I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the closing song This Universe.

As a whole, this fairly short (it comes in just a few ticks over 30 minutes) collection could be attractive to those who like any number of genres. While CommonUnion59 identifies itself most as a folk group, there are songs which could attract them to fans of country, country-rock, and acoustic music. The whole album wouldn’t necessarily be their cup of tea overall, but it would expand their musical universe.

When this pair describes themselves and their music, they say, “Rooted in emotion and experience, their music is a story telling journey of life and love that transcends all through eloquent simplicity.” In those terms, the album is generally a success and it will be worth watching to see how the public reacts when the album drops on February 11. The duo is also planning a tour in support of the release, although to what extent that trek will venture away from their California roots remains to be seen.

Normally this is the point where I tell you to listen for yourself, but since I accessed a private copy of unreleased material for review purposes, the next best suggestion might be their website where they have the teaser tracks It’s Alright and Not Dead Inside. (See if I’m not right about that being a good potential live song.) I know I have a lot of fans who tend toward country and bluegrass in my home area, so this may be something for those who are into that stuff to keep in mind when it comes out next month.