Minor chords and a major hit

All too often one becomes so jaded by life that it feels like life has stopped moving altogether. Music has the ability to remind the listener what it means to be alive. WithLove, Loss, Hope, Repeat, Carbon Leaf comes close to creating true art, which in its truest form, exists solely to define the human experience. There is a hidden clarity somehow buried within art’s subjectivity.

The CD is filled with reflective yet catchy songs. It evokes emotion without being too emotional and captures the vastness of the human condition in the process. For example, in “The War Was in Color” drummer Scott Milstead slowly builds intensity into a driving snare drum march that recreates the atmosphere of the battlefield. The listener becomes a marching soldier, effectively experiencing the true vibrancy of war. This reality becomes convincing and personal as lead vocalist Barry Privet sings, “This black and white photo don’t capture the skin / from the flash of a gun to a soldier who’s done / trust me grandson / the war was in color.”

In “Under the Wire,” Privet sings, “I need to feel redeemed.” Unrequited love has a funny way of making one feel worthless. This song is about love lost without being cliché. It is about the struggle to “Shake the love for a woman / break the emotion overdrive.” In “Texas Stars,” Carbon Leaf touches on dreams and disappointment when Privet asks, “Have you been let down / by a lover, father, or friend?” Everyone can relate to this, and that is the essence of good music. Carbon Leaf manages to explore what it means to be alive without depressing the listener. The guitar sound is rich, reminiscent of Dave Matthews, only catchier and fuller. The momentum rarely slows.

Many bands get locked into one extreme or another. Too often, the music is either too emotional with no hook or it’s catchy with no substance; there is no experimentation. Carbon Leaf is a hybrid of soul-searching introspection. Am I bold enough to coin a new genre? Let’s not cross the line here but, bands heavy with emotion typically lack that subtle bounce, that energy that demands the listener’s attention. On the other hand, high-energy bands sometimes get so lost in their enthusiasm that any substance which may have been present is impossible to discern (think forgettable ’70s hair metal). Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat has found the perfect balance.

The album is Carbon Leaf’s seventh, but only its second since signing with Vanguard Records in 2004. The quintet, comprised of Privet, Milstead, guitarist Terry Clark, bassist Jordan Medas and guitarist Carter Gravatt, was formed in Richmond, Virginia in 1992 when the band members started their own record label, Constant Ivy. Over the next 10 years, the band released five independent studio albums. Their last album, Echo Echo, sold more than 45 thousand copies and earned Carbon Leaf national recognition when the band won the 2001 American Music Awards’ Coca-Cola New Music Award for “The Boxer.” The band performed the single live for some 80 million TV viewers, and the following year the song was featured in Pontiac Vibe commercials.

However, despite the band’s sound and generally successful attempt to explore the depth of emotion without boring the listener, there are a few instances on Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat where the metaphors are a little too deep. According to the band’s Web site CarbonLeaf.com, “A Girl and Her Horse” is actually about a girl and a man who isn’t you. Who knew? The metaphor is lost completely.

Scattered throughout the otherwise poetic lyrics are a few lines that sound a bit awkward, if not cheesy. Most notably, in “Learning to Fly,” Privet sings, “Two birds hover in a heart factory / holding on to recovery.” The line is subtle enough, though, that it doesn’t take much away from the rest of the song.

Overall, Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat is a beautiful illustration of the human experience complemented by an intricate, often optimistic acoustic guitar. If you want to be moved, if you want something fresh, if you want clarity, check this album out – you won’t be disappointed.