Balto is a group from Portland, Oregon. But the band’s story really begins in Moscow, Russia. Lead singer Dan Sheron decided to exile himself from the city and went alone to Siberia where he was inspired to write many songs of his experiences before returning to America to record those songs that make up Balto’s debut album October’s Road. The band itself formed as they describe it, “through friends of friends.” Their sound is kind of all over the place: embracing pure American rock and roll at times, while also embodying a folk, roots driven sound and a pinch of psychedelia for good measure. They’re one of those groups that fits the Americana label well mixing such a variety of sounds. It certainly comes across on their newest album Strangers, an album that not only dazzles you with their eclectic sound, but meaningful lyrics too.
Balto opens with the pondering “Lost On The Young.” The song wonders if love is lost on the young of today and goes on to wonder if we’ve become lost in the fog of the American dream. It’s quite the thought provoker. Twangy guitars usher in “Restless Generation.” The instrumentation on this song is really just flawless and draws you in with ease. One of the things you quickly learn about Balto is instrumentation is an area they absolutely excel in on this album. “CA Luv” is an instantly catchy song. Everything about this song is effortlessly smooth. The dreamy “Midnight” lulls you in and wins you over with its guitar play. The bluesy and soulful “Born Astray” is one of the best songs on Strangers. It’s about a man who realizes he’s born astray while at the same time dealing with acceptance of a break-up that he knows was the right thing (he freely admits he was a waste of time). Yet he still wonders about her and what she’s doing now. The heavy organ play really gives this song some great texture. The frenetic “Shots In The Dark” is about the heartbreak of realizing you found the right person at the wrong time. A man realizes he has to let a woman go he’s known for a while, even though he feels like he’s right for her. He sees the dreams he had with this woman dissolve before his very eyes as he’s forced to let her go. It’s just absolutely fantastic storytelling from Balto.
The piano-driven love ballad “Star of Bethlehem” is another standout of the album. The song is about an embattled relationship where both sides have felt like leaving at times, yet the other always convinces them to stay. Despite these leaving feelings, they also can’t shake the feeling it’s never a good time to leave. I love the vulnerability that is conveyed in the vocals on this song, really driving the lyrics across well. “Celebration Smile” is probably the most interesting song on the album. It’s about a man recalling the life of the woman he was married to and left for a life of freedom on his own. He realized he didn’t want a life of growing old with someone. As he says he wants to “keep the best intentions, but regret the things I’ve done.” It’s a poetic take on life choices and their effects on a person. The cherry on top of this song is the energetic electric guitar play that ends the song with a bang. “A Year Lasts A Lifetime” is another great display of the band’s infectious and driving sound. The album concludes with the heartbreak song “One Night Show.” It’s about a couple that may lie next to each other every night, but are really miles away in their hearts. As the song says, it’s the perfect one night show: pretending to be so close, yet so far away. Its another great tragedy penned on this album.
Simply put Strangers is a fantastic album. Balto intrigued me from my first listen of Strangers and the more I pulled back the layers of this album, the more impressed I became. There’s such a rich, variety display of sounds throughout this album that pair up so well with their lyrical counterparts. It’s an album that kind of pulls you every which way and you feel a little bit of everything listening to it. While the instrumentation is something that will immediately impress, the songwriting is equally admirable and lead vocalist Sheron really does a great job bringing the songs to life. Strangers is the type of album that will leave a smile on your face and reward you for listening from start to finish.
Recommend? – Yes! (especially if you enjoy acts like Robert Ellis, Chris King or enjoyed The War on Drugs’ last album)
Album Highlights: Shots In The Dark, Celebration Smile, Born Astray, One Night Show, Star of Bethlehem, CA Luv
Bad Songs: None