The Lineup

Wood Ear

Durham, N.C.

Five years after his first release, the 2007 EP The Hard Way, Wood Ear auteur Nate Tarr returns with his second EP, Steeple Vultures. The Durham resident’s debut vacillated between twangy college rock, introspective folk and jangling country-folk, offering a nice cross-section of tunes buoyed by durable hooks and keen phrasing. Tarr’s vocals sally forth with a slacker’s fishtail, his plaintive tone harking back to late ’80s acts like Sebaboh, Dinosaur Jr. and Meat Puppets.

The Hard Way was an estimable first effort; however, as no more than a part-time pursuit, Wood Ear had more trouble taking root than the tree fungus from which it takes its name. Tarr ascribes it to “circumstance, preoccupation, and occasional lack of motivation” on his website, neglecting to mention his wife (and the band’s keyboardist) Krystal Black’s battle with breast cancer last year. So far, 2012, has offered better news regarding her health and the band: In January, Churchkey Records offered to release Steeple Vultures this summer, giving Tarr impetus to complete the recordings.

The new seven-song EP is nearly an album at its 30-plus minute length, and a solid one at that. Like the debut, it balances quieter acoustic tunes with slow-burn rockers. It’s not so much louder as more detailed. There’s more lurking in the backgrounds, and the lyrics are even better. Among the highlights are the anthemic, Southern-rock tinged ode to the downtrodden, “Leghold,” with its rallying cry “They want more/When they have enough.” The folky atmospheric pop of “Wasteland” moves like an organ-driven Replacements song and features a number of wonderful lines, including “kicking the walls of life, but no way to get inside.”

There’s no doubt Steeple Vultures marks serious growth. Tarr simply needs to keep moving the line forward; he’s a canny writer and the songs have an effortless charm, but if a fungus falls in the forest… —Chris Parker