Haunted Horse is the moniker of San Francisco based singer-songwriter Scott Reu. His 11-song debut Little Bird contains stories about a divorce, a pet name, an attempted murder by arson, a long-ago summer love and a forgotten pint of ice cream – a unique juxtaposition of themes, huh? In short, Reu explains his debut as the exploration of “several distinct relationships from a variety of perspectives and at various points in time, in order to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of the most intimate and lasting kinds of pain that people can cause to one another.” Scott sings on lead vocals and plays guitar, James Riotto sings the backing vocals and plays piano, synths, basses and guitar (he also produced and engineered Little Bird) and Jason Slota rounds out the band’s sound on drums. Some of the tracks have the style of the Mountain Goats, while others harken back to early Bright Eyes and Frank Turner.
“Getting Over You” is a happy tune with lyrics asking for hope to get over someone you used to love. The music is in an upbeat, country-folk pop style, with nice warm tones of the bass and synth. “The Fire” really took me by surprise with unique sounds from the synth and/or guitar effects. The melody feels haunting, light and tender and the lyrics are kind of dark if you take the line “I slept while you poured gasoline on the floor” literally. “The Black Cherry Ice Cream Song” has flavors – ok, I let that pun slip – of Caribbean Island/jazz style of playing, or that’s my best guess. The lyrics are rather funny, even if the story within is not.
“Wolverine” is a little more cryptic in its lyrics but the second verse – “I hope I get dementia and Alzheimer's, too / because, then, at least I won't go to my grave / thinking of how I treated you” – pretty much sums this tune up about doing someone wrong.
The album’s title track is a happy sounding, toe tapping pop song about what else? – divorce. One of the longer songs on the record is “In Search of Lost Time.” It has a mellower vibe, heavier on the acoustic and keys. The words are about a break up and/or a growing apart from your lover, but, Reu offers his love another chance if that chance is taken – “You’ll get my whole love if you give it a try / let me give you one good reason why.”
“Disassembly Manual” reminded me of the talk-sing musical style of Lou Reed. Overall, the mood is quiet and lonely, but the “drum beat” keys sounded weirdly funky through my headphones. “I Love You (But I’d Trade You for a Fruit Stand)” features a swaggering rockabilly/blues style with lyrics that say – “honey, you know I love you, but I'd trade you for a fruit stand” – like, thanks for the good times, the laughs, but you treated me like crap. There’s plenty of other fish in the sea. “Going to an Undisclosed Location” is a steady pop number with added xylophone and keys and it seems to be about someone who’s left someone else behind without a trace.
“Highway Robbery” seemed to me the only song that didn’t sound like all the rest, meaning it had a more rocking dynamic style. Maybe it was the backing vocals, or more action on the drums that did it for me. Anyway, it was my favorite. “Vows” features a full, rolling rhythm on acoustic and lyrics about a bitter end to a marriage gone horribly wrong. Reu’s words are powerful on this last number, biting and poetic – “Will you promise to stay wherever you went?/ I won’t live in your shadow. I can’t afford the rent.”
Although not my usual go-to style of music, I thought Little Bird was produced quite well, with nice warm and mellow tones throughout.
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