Though the earnest-yet-twee folk-pop wave has crested — Mumford & Sons plugging in and going full Coldplay is the mustache-n-suspenders equivalent of Fonzie jumping the shark — there’s still a lot of bands out there embracing that sound and making it their own. Portland is no exception, and the interesting four-piece band Old Soul, who just released their second album, “Omnipresent,” falls into that category. A closer listen to the album, however, reveals far more musical inspirations at play — there’s a lot more going on here than simply writing a “whoa-oh” chorus and kind of learning to play the banjo.
The third track on “Omnipresent,” sums up much of what the album is all about. “Rest” is a gently melodic pop song, adorned with colorful arrangements drawing from folk and Latin music, with Old Soul lead singer and songwriter Mike O’Hehir’s vocals intertwined with a female vocalist — in this case the Boston-via-Portland songwriter Amy Allen. It’s exceedingly enjoyable and very well played. O’Hehir and his bandmates have done their work as musicians.
“Omnipresent” maintains that charming, accessible, thoughtful vibe throughout its nine songs. O’Hehir, possessing of an expressive tenor voice, is a deceptively adventurous songwriter. Though on the surface these songs are pop-centric indie folk in the vein of Of Monsters And Men or Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, there’s a kind of western, Mexican-inflected vibe pervasive throughout the album, that brings to mind the early albums from Beirut.
The best thing about this album — besides O’Hehir’s singing, reminiscent of a less whiskey-and-cigarette-soaked Dave Gutter — are the arrangements. For instance, “Shadows,” the centerpiece of the album, starts off as a more conventional song before segueing into a dubby, extended instrumental break. Sara Hallie Richardson, who I believe is contractually obligated to sing backup on at least half of the albums recorded in Portland each year, contributes a lovely vocal performance on “Coast,” a song about escaping to the coast of Maine. Producer and slide guitarist Keith J. Nelson does an excellent job maintaining a consistent vibe throughout the album, with crisp, unmuddied, balanced mixing of the multitude of instrumentation — from violin and viola to melodica and banjo.