The “glowstream” mentioned in this album’s title refers to a small creek in Cumberland, Md., home to the duo known as Cotton Jones. The stream serves as a major inspiration for the band’s sophomore LP — it was a place to recharge batteries and get away from a year spent on the road promoting their debut, 2009’s Paranoid Cocoon. As with previous efforts, Cotton Jones revels in the easygoing intersection of country and pop, using the harmonies of the two principals — Whitney McGraw and Michael Nau — as the basic framework for their simple, hazy songs. Yet the inherent fuzziness of Tall Hours In The Glowstream works against the group, as the record lopes along pleasantly enough but with few cuts making noticeable ripples.
Paranoid Cocoon was low key in all the right ways. Basic song structures allowed the two voices — Nau’s sandpaper drawl and McGraw’s sweet croon — to shine in conjunction with the slightly sun-fried jamming. You can hear the duo attempting to tighten the songcraft on Glowstream with songs like “Glorylight And Christie,” a song divided between McGraw’s yearning vocal intro and Nau’s Pet Sounds-indebted back half. Yet the complexity is not needed, and indeed it can be a disservice. A found-sound rhythm on “Man Climbs Out Of The Winter” is completely at odds with the conventional country ballad the song wants to be, and the record’s two instrumentals are more distracting than effective. The songs may be shorter, but they’re not punchier.
The group excels on the tunes with stronger backbones. Album opener “Sail Of The Silver Morning,” sets the album’s tone, modestly galloping out of the gate while Nau takes his time with his melody. What makes the song work is the drumbeat. As simple as it is, it at least keeps everything moving forward. Cotton Jones too often fall into the lone-acoustic-guitar trap, where even the best of songs can get bogged down by the lack of instrumentation. However, a subtle Latin rhythm (“Dream On Columbia Street”) and a diving and weaving melody (“Song In Numbers”) shake loose some of the record’s sleepiness. They’re the signposts showing that the band has untapped talent hidden beneath the haziness.
Early in the record, Nau implores, “come on baby, let the river roll on,” and it’s a nice sentiment to hear. With so many gimmicky groups out there, the band’s ease and comfort with being low key is as refreshing as the titular stream. But a few rocks thrown into the water wouldn’t hurt, either. Cotton Jones is comfortable, but that comfort can be tiresome.