Music Review: American Beauties’ Sound of Mind

Indie Folk Pop artist American Beauties follow-up their eleven-song Too Worn to Mend cd with another eleven compositions from vocalist/band leader Michael A. Gray on 2023’s Sound of Mind. The only way to put it is that Gray’s songwriting on both discs is masterful. He has a grasp of strong melodies and chords that accompany his creative musings. Where the first album, Too Worn to Mend, is more aggressive and sometimes darker, Sound of Mind lightens things up with pure pop. The riffs and country inflection on Grace Under Fire from the first album had more of that brash push, while the opening song on Sound of Mind, the two minute and fifty-two second “Yours and Mine,” delivers with pure cascading pop and the line “I love you like a simple song…” setting the pace for swirling melodic episodes that hit one after another – the way a Beatles album kept you listening track after track.

Co-produced with drums by engineer/producer Ducky Carlisle, track 2, “The Rain,” is resplendent in keyboards/guitars and Gray’s authoritative and compelling voice. A major league song and production with an animated YouTube which you can play repeatedly. It will help you explore the nuances of this wonderful song.

“Good Excuses” takes the indie-folk rock the band embraces and gives it the harder edge of the previous LP, Too Worn to Mend. George Harrison-styled guitar licks and a strong hook. The songs are precise and well produced, and “Shining Stars” keeps the momentum going, you won’t hit “skip” on the CD player, the track-list works with nice pacing across the disc. “Matters of Love” brings Sound of Mind back to its pop/country/folk roots. The lyrics are contained inside the insert that comes with the package.

“Passionate People” is contemporary music with sixties influences, where music should be in 2023/2024. The band is exemplary and delivers with fun infused with the business-like “let’s entertain” feel. The band’s website notes: “The songs reflect on the human need for love and stability in the wake of life’s unrelenting pressures and tackle difficult subjects with an overriding theme of hope.”

“The Place We Started” evokes the styles (and could be covered by) James Taylor, Liv Taylor, Kate Taylor, Alex Taylor…heck, even Art Garfunkel could take this title and have a hit with it. Michael Gray dips into different genres, but wraps them up in his American Beauties style.

“Days Between” brings us back to the Pop/Indie Folk with reference to Lou Reed opening with the words “Goodbye Sweet Jane” …and if you found it on Lou Reed’s first solo RCA album you wouldn’t blink. But, again, it is modernized and very today, harkening back to that era where this all started, including another reference, this time to Melissa Manchester’s “Midnight Blue.”

“Desolate Miles” brings the thumping rhythm of the Cars/Police’s “Every Breath You Take” tight undercurrent, but the sizzling guitar is all American Beauties, and yes you can feel Ben Orr vocals on this as well. “Sundown New Year” is another quick turn of events, the most country effort on the album. Every song nice for a long drive from east to west. Nice questioning words while the guitar/drum combo creates a nice platform for Gray’s voice.

“Always Loved You” concludes the disc with an entirely different approach, almost like the Beatles adding a footnote to Let it Be, adding both a poignant and self-analyzing thought process. American Beauties will be at the
• Plough and Stars on 912 Mass. Ave in Cambridge, MA on Thursday November 30,2023.