Article by Andrés Alvarado
The Head and The Heart troupe have made quite a journey from the grassroots darlings they embarked on when to they began this whole music thing to the nowadays pop-rock mainstream mainstays they have become. This voyage has seen incredible highs like crooning at the open mic bars to entertaining thousands at notable worldwide venues, and the lousy lows of the whole Josiah Johnson fiasco. Nonetheless, the gang’s fourth LP, Living Mirage, marks a new chapter for the band. The quintessential pastoral-folksy vibes of THATH are in the backseat and a new, peppier, more radio-friendly tone has pushed to the forefront. Change is always difficult, sometimes outright rejected, yet Living Mirage may prove to be the right move for the 2019 version of The Head and The Heart.
Living Mirage is the spawn of reintroduction for the band — to themselves. Planned and recorded while on retreat at Joshua Tree, Living Mirage finds the gang in a more liberated phase of life. No longer attached to the stigma of a boxed in genre or the stylistic ways of their former co-head honcho, plus the long overdue formal addition of Charity Rose Thielen‘s main squeeze, Matt Gervais, to the mix, the Jonathan Russell-led sextet have delivered their most accessible album to date. Lead single “Missed Connection” is a sleek slice of catchy art pop that strikes as having jumped ship from the solo Rob Thomas catalogue and settled in nicely onto the musical expansion that The Head and The Heart are currently experiencing. By contrast, the follow-up single off Living Mirage, “Honeybee,” yields a mellow paced sappy ode-to-love lullaby that exposes the beauty behind the Russell-Thielen vocal dynamic. “Honeybee” may not be as catchy as its predecessor, yet it distinguishes itself by way of a tug-at-your-heartstrings hackneyed sort of way.
The supporting cast behind Living Mirage are a mixed bag of solid-to-great tunes and forgettable generic earworm filler. Among the better side of things are the namesake “Living Mirage” and its gorgeous intervals of tempered ballad to dance-with-your-arms-high-in-the-sky bravado. Additionally, the simplicity and calmness to “People Need A Melody,” “Saving Grace,” “Brenda” and “See You Through My Eyes” are slight splendid bewitching reminders that The Head and The Heart of old are not completely gone. This quartet of leisurely paced anthems serve as a sturdy bridge between those THATH purists and that new wave of fandom to come through this new radio-friendly approach.
As expected, an outfit navigating through a harmonious transformative phase will unfortunately experience some pitfalls. Living Mirage suffers under the weight of non-attention grabbing numbers like “Running Through Hell,” “Up Against the Wall,” and “I Found Out.” This trio of merely okay folk-rock chants feel forced to fruition — like the gang was unable to break the code to create the right hooks, or were simply unaware of the needed formula.
In the end, Living Mirage serves up an above-average feast of mature lyrics channeled of learnt life lessons and wearing your heart on your sleeve. Melodically, Living Mirage is volatile; yet there is enough there to keep an audience engaged, and ease older aficionados into the new age of The Head and The Heart. Living Mirage is change, welcomed or not. Living Mirage is the first ride on the Johnson-less, Russell-steered ship to bigger things that may or may not be better for the band. Only way to find out is to try, and that is something these reacquainted musician friends are ready to explore together. Welcome back, The Head and The Heart.
Album Score: 6.5/10 — Key Tracks: Living Mirage, Missed Connection, See You Through My Eyes