Most bands just have one songwriter—one person who writes all the words, melodies and chord progressions. But some of the best groups have more than one—just think of the later era of The Beatles, when McCartney, Lennon and Harrison all emerged as distinct songwriters. The vastly different approaches to songwriting are part of what make albums like Revolver and The White Album so enduring.
Backstory, a new full-length by local band The Novelists, features three singer-songwriters with unique, individual songwriting voices. Longtime Novelists leader Joel Ackerson writes pleasant, lite-epic narrative tunes, the kind of songs that soundtrack musical montages in TV medical dramas. The prolific and hard-working Eric Anderson draws on the sounds of ’70s AM Gold. His recent solo album, Plane Rides & Ocean Tides, evoked Billy Joel, and his work here is vaguely reminiscent of Harry Nilsson.
Megan Slankard lands in a crossover-appealing zone that overlaps country, pop and folk. Her lyrics are quirky. Album opener “Planets” begins with “star date 12803,” like a Star Trek captain’s log. Lyrically, it seems like a space-travel-as-a-metaphor-for-emotional-loneliness song—sort of like “Space Oddity” or “Rocket Man,” but as first written and performed by Taylor Swift.
The risk of having three distinct songwriters is that the album might not cohere as a whole. But three songwriters play instruments—piano, guitars, mandolins—on one another’s songs, and sing backing vocals, which helps bridge the gaps. The only other musician on the record is bassist Zack Teran, who brings enough jazzy musicality to the songs to make up for the lack of a drummer.
More than anything, Backstory recalls Fleetwood Mac: different, complementary singer-songwriters and male-female vocal harmonies over agreeable and surprisingly eclectic soft rock sounds.