Double Malt

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Live review from Underground 102:

Setlist:

1. City Limit Sign
2. Mahiny Out to Jobim
3. Born and Raised [John Mayer cover]
4. Simplicity
5. Unsung
6. Sinner by Trade
7. Tonight Everything’s Right

The red-tinged ambient interior of the Live House was offset by bright and uplifting chords as the night began with Double Malt. These two guys play acoustic music that has the classic stamp of having been conceived in bars and pubs – alternately uplifting or soothing, extremely melodic, and easy to clap your hands to or sing along with. They do have a certain levity and joy to their sound, generally backed up by the lyrics, that’s engaging and makes them easy on almost anyone’s ears. This very same quality also, however, means that they are somewhat… vanilla. Since acoustic guitarists (to my mind) have to work extra hard at carving out a sonic signature because they don’t have the options of tone and texture that electric guitarists do, if one doesn’t think about how to make the songs different from each other and from those of others’, the music can tend to blend into a fuzzy mass at the back of the listener’s mind. Their first four songs, for instance, were so similar that I struggled to think about them as separate songs at the end of the set. [On a personal note, the John Mayer cover really didn’t help my opinion of this.]

There were hints of jazz, which they apparently also do, but the hints were too generic and poppy to really mean much. Think drive-time radio-friendly ‘happy’ music, and that (unfortunately) about sums it up. Another grumble I had with them was one I have had with many musicians, which is that if you’re playing really melodic, mostly-major chord songs, you have to put a bit more effort into hitting as many notes as you can dead on. It’s a massive psychological letdown when someone breaks the spell of the song as you’re trying to go along with it by half-assing a note.

Having said that, they get full marks for performance – every song was heartfelt to the hilt and their comfort on stage was infectious. The combination of voices they have is excellent – one being rich, throaty and smooth, and the other a great foil with a slightly papery, warm quality. Unsung, written about a friend that passed away who was a philosophical mentor, was a pleasingly rich and well-written composition, with the guitar taking on a lovely piano-like ring – the way good acoustic guitars are supposed to sound. The percussion added by the cajón backed this up nicely. If I may be so bold, I’d suggest that they consider leaving out the cajón in Sinner by Trade; percussion seems to make acoustic guitarists lazy, making them hit chords with less purpose. The song is an interesting composition in a minor key, and might be served better by the added force of another guitar, or keyboards, or something melodic. Smartly, they ended on a high note, with Tonight Everything’s Right being a jaunty, bouncy number. I must stress again that their performance was quite enjoyable , and they got their crowd going alright. Just that the songs having more character would add a lot to their set, which being enthusiastic can’t substitute for.

– Shashwati Kala

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