It's tempting to pin the budding renown of Chapel Hill's Morning Brigade to Lost in the Trees' nationally lauded coattails. They emerged from the same town, of course, both offering endlessly passionate folk songs bolstered by soaring strings. Morning Brigade's promising 2012 debut, Above Our Heads, followed that formula, pitting ragged strums against smooth swells. But the difference came from Morning Brigade ringleader Peter Vance, who has always chased bigger, more approachable ideas than those of Lost in the Trees.
Grow Around the Bones, Morning Brigade's exceedingly professional second album, depends on this ambition. The album's best songs are its most radio-ready, with earnest emotions channeled through refined hooks and sleekly sweeping pop-rock. Vance's vocals sport a throaty insistence that suggests The Fray's Isaac Slade, a similarity from which this Brigade doesn't shy. During "Elemental," acoustic guitars glide and strings tangle, gathering behind Vance as he slides through verses—"At least the hospital's consistent/Nothing feels worse than the incisions/Made when pity piles high/You barely balance, but you try." Likewise, "Which Way Will You Run" stomps about with rich piano chords, taking a page from the Coldplay of Parachutes. With big rhythms and panoramic lyrics, "Not One to Stay" takes a mighty swing for an arena's upper decks.
Morning Brigade's growing pains emerge in the outlying moments: "Weight of the World" attempts to cop Bright Eyes' self-righteous rollick, but the take is too polite to feel at all boisterous. "Trading Love for Gold" is the worst offender, ruining rambunctious honky-tonk keys and fiddle with clumsy guitar licks. Think Jason Mraz hitting the jam circuit.
While it's far from unblemished, Grow's best moments offer both sophistication and mass appeal—a combo that needs no coattail to find an audience.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Starts and fits"Label: self-released