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Love and Theft

World Wide Open – 2009 (Carolwood)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Love and Theft

What if you held auditions for lead singer within your band and everyone got the job? It happens. All three members of Love and Theft - Brian Bandas, Eric Gunderson, and Stephen Barker Liles - share the vocal duties, acting as each other's backups and plugging in harmonies (think early Eagles) wherever possible. In the wake of a tour opening for Taylor Swift, the pin-up gents from everywhere (Austin by way of Charlotte and Clearwater, Fla.) now venture forth with their debut to the eager ears of teenage girls everywhere.

The lopsidedness of the album is quickly noticeable, with the most melodic tracks front-loaded to the top. The hit single Runaway works without question for instant, hummable likeability.

Be aware when you see this labeled in stores as "New Country," they're just being kind. You could easily replace the "new" with "not." Mandolins and banjo are buried deep in the vocal-forward mix. Non-threatening lyrics, overwhelming sensitivity and a repetitive pocket of the same, soft arrangements evoke a kind of secular Contemporary Christian Music more accurately. Then throw in boy band for good measure. By the second half of things, the schmaltzy descent into syrupy ballads completes (did they really write, "Life/I Need to Talk to You" as an opening line?).

Let's be clear - these guys who fell together by chance excel at what they do. But the trademark three-part singing doesn't feel nearly as fresh on the 10th track as the first. It's nothing short of incredible how different voices, both musical and lyrical, can all ultimately sound so safe and similar.