(Independent Release) Five-song “pop song cycle” The Bitter Suite leans on Supertramp keyboards, Queen-esque drama and McCartney-esque hooks. But where those artists ran the gamut of storytelling, Drive-By Truckers multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez deals mostly in pastoral love songs, glossy and bright and as harmless as a butterfly. “Almond Eyes” even attempts the ever-dicey whistled refrain maneuver, a bid for playful spontaneity that’s a tad too polished to regard as such.
The Bitter Suite is enjoyable, though it often seems trapped in its own nostalgia. Even so, while no particular theme binds the EP together, it does circle about quite well. If you play the wistful, Rundgren-y closer “Shanarock Lane” (one of the record’s best tracks, where Gonzalez embraces his quaint, bookish tendencies and tells an intriguing teatime drama) alongside the boisterous, Badfinger-ish opener “Light Side of the Leaves,” you’ll be whisked by a ghostly breeze from end to end.
Less successful is “&$%@#!” (yes, that’s the actual title), a jerky faux-climax of a song where Gonzalez exaggerates the pitfalls of online communication. Had the tune’s lyrics stuck to the timeless balladry stuff, it might not jut out so badly.