Naturally enough when a band takes its name from a Shakespearian sonnet you’d expect a certain lyrical sophistication and a heightened sense of narrative to traverse their material; doubly so when you discover that the band fashion alternative country/folk songs. Band leader Simon Dowling is by no means Ireland’s answer to Richie Edwards; but he does have a knack of building intimate, yet aloof stories, layered with shards of regret, love and listlessness.
Ironically it’s Dowling’s Adam Green-esque speak-sing vocals which simultaneously make and derail the album. At times Dowling struggles a tad too much to reach certain notes at vital times, whilst elsewhere his deadpan style is charmingly frank. Opening track Railroad has a jittery, ramshackle quality to it which permeates much of the album. Can’t Go Back disappoints, save its beautiful string outro. It’s such a shame that one of the albums highlights is so fleeting. I Was A Miner however, is a more consistent affair driven by a smart melodic bassline, mimicked by fiddle and embellished upon by the clever use of mallets.
Dowling exposes himself the most on title track Family Tree which returns the narrative to the railroad theme once again. The track grows dark, as they lyrically reflect on life stuck in a “dead end job” with no way out in sight. Things get darker still as a barbershop backing vocal merrily chirps, as it reflects “The last lifejacket was wasted on me.” The addition of Hammond organ complements the vocals morose tones perfectly on When We Got To The Border which concludes proceedings on a suitably dour note.
Overall ‘Family Tree’ is a little too rough around the edges to really engage long-term thanks to a lack of attention to detail especially on Dowling’s vocals. However there is enough quality present to indicate that You Kiss By The Book are more than capable of ironing out the kinks in the future.