The Assumptions
The Assumptions

(LS.d Records)

It was about two months ago, while working on some ideas as a basis for a new Mike Keneally interview, that I happened to think that Keneally's involvement in so many musical endeavours, past and present, puts a writer - even one that's a "qualified expert" in all things Keneally - in the uncomfortable, dangerous position of forgetting about something really important. And it's a point that I strongly stressed in my intro to the new interview.

Readers can easily imagine my surprise when, upon learning that the new album by The Assumptions had finally been released (the album having Keneally both as producer and multi-instrumentalist), I had to admit to myself that I had completely forgotten about it, and so I hadn't asked him about it in the course of our conversation. Were this not enough, the press release which came with the album revealed to me that, far from being a man like I had subconsciously assumed, Layne Sterling - the guitarist and singer who wrote all the album's music and lyrics - is indeed a woman (I had assumed Layne to be a man's name).

Of LP-length (a format for which the music featured in this album is stylistically "appropriate"), The Assumptions is available on both CD and vinyl. Both sounded fine to me: sounding typically "wider", the CD offered a better frequency response, in both the high and low regions, besides sounding a lot (and I mean a lot) louder; as it's typical of this medium, the vinyl album edition is focused towards the centre, and even if its volume is quite lower than I would prefer, it has its own kind of poetry, as it's typical of the medium.

Layne Sterling' voice (fine) and songs (good) are the reason The Assumptions exists. So Keneally has worked "around" her, putting her vocals and melodies to the fore. There are lotsa guitars and keyboards, of course, and one can also find that old trick - remember those classic albums by The Who, also many Keneally solo albums - of having a distorted electric guitar sitting in the background paired with an acoustic guitar sitting right in front. Keneally is on guitars and keyboards (and occasionally on bass), the rhythm section is one of the album's secret weapons: on bass, Jon Kanis is solid, Brian Cantrell's drums are propulsive and versatile; Sterling herself is on rhythm guitar, sometimes her daughter Sara is also on vocals. A stratified sonic approach that gives one the impression of "live".

The music featured in this album could easily be described as "rock" - just like albums such as Sticky Fingers or The Cry Of Love can be said to be "rock" - with some pop flavours added, and a strong American accent. Though sometimes (check the fast Better Late Than Never and Once In A While, or the first track, Velvet Warning) her voice reminded me of Chrissie Hynde's, Layne Sterling's vocals are quite often easy to compare to Joni Mitchell's, but here it's probably a matter of phrasing and approach; to be precise, readers are invited to imagine the "lighter" moments on For The Roses and Court And Spark (and Hejira's vocal approach) as performed by the rock group featured on Wild Things Run Fast; and especially so on Into Freedom (with drumsticks " la Vinnie Colaiuta") and Cocktail Dancing (with brushes work " la John Guerin"). The lyrics look good to me, they are not on the album but they can be accessed on the group's website (

Opening track Velvet Warning is appropriately driving and full of guitars. Arranged by Keneally, the brief The Magdalene has guitars and keyboards develop a vocal motif by Sterling. Dip Dish Sonic Sage presents a fine melody, and vocal counterpoint by Sara Sterling. 3 (a track I refer to by the name Changes) has a guitaristic mid-tempo mood sounding halfway between Almost Cut My Hair and some tracks off Zuma, the voice at the front, and nice vocal counterpoint. In a way a mix of The Pretenders and Missing Persons, the airy, rhythmic Better Late Than Never has a nice bridge. The aforementioned Into Freedom is the fine close to Side One, with an excellent melody, a clear rimshot, and a "flute-like" phrase from the guitar at the close.

Cocktail Dancing opens Side Two with a strange "rock" attack, then it's acoustic guitars, vocals, solid bass, brushes on the snare drum, hi-hat to the front, and a nice B section with a nice vocal counterpoint. Arranged by Keneally, Hail Caesar! has a "funky" guitar, an "uptempo" rhythm section, and a melodic fragment played by some "reeds" that reminded me of Reach Out, I'll Be There by The Four Tops; in closing, there's a brief guitar solo with a definite Steely Dan flavour. Why Are You is an "almost bossa" with an impossible-to-forget chorus. Once In A While reminded me of Hynde, it's followed by the brief, varied, and instrumental Wished. Who's Mentoring The Store, Merlin?, featuring a mid-tempo melody and a very fine melodic development, nicely brings the album to its close.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2009 | June 5, 2009