by Joel Chaffee

Horse Stories, whose fifth LP November, November saw release January 19th, was a quiet electric ballad Thursday night at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. Writer, singer, and rhythm guitarist Toby Burke stood while Luther Russell assumed a stool and played a bluesy, poppy lead guitar, melodies and some wonderful tremolo assuming prominence.

Artist: Horse Stories
Song: Hummingbird (We’ll Be Okay)

Opening with “Hole in the Head,” followed by “To Anyone,” the songs — electric — managed to expand and contract impressively with only the two performers. Burke’s baritone, full of breath and restraint, commanded attention without begging for sympathy.

November, November is a lonesome album of songwriting. It’s small washes of distorted guitar, and percussion keeping the rhythm moving amidst the subtle pickings of Burke’s rhythm guitar. (Or reminding me of a funeral march: “The Believer.”) Lyrically, Burke is stately, but sincere; hinting. “Spring was a rush / And summer just too much / But I hear you don’t have seasons down your way.”

November‘s opening lines, from “Hummingbird” — “We all need someone there when we break / And we all leave some things in our wake / But I won’t hold you back,” — are sung with a passion that knows its bounds. This is the power in Burke’s voice: the control, the lack of embarrassing pathos. The chorus, after all, is “We’ll be okay.” This song, like most of those on the LP, swells with some keys, pounding percussion, and the reassuring melodies carrying through each piece.

Luther and Burke ended the set with November closer, “The TV.” Electric guitar and vocals, percussion gradually making itself familiar, the vocals echo “The TV will run / Away with your love.” The tempo accelerates, with patience; I think of time lost; the progression circles, strings approach. The percussion and echoes and strings, of course, were not present at Pete’s, but the performance paralleled in intensity its recorded brother.

Horse Stories are, before all else, melody. November‘s careful and focused production gives these songs, and particularly Burke’s vocals, an opportunity to exist beyond the two-man band. Live, the two-man band was short of little.

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