The Coals ‘A Happy Animal’ - Self Release

An LA based band with their second release, an 8 track mini-album type of thing, that displays their overall sound to good effect. The play a blend of California country/folk/roots that has obvious antecedents. But the music stands or falls on the strength of the songs and they are good. Written, bar one co-write, by singer/guitarist Jason Mandell they are memorable, punchy and crafted. Mandell also produced the album and so, to a large degree, directs the band’s journey and makes it sound like a band rather than a singer and his backing band.

The album opens with a voice of a prophet of doom for Los Angeles before we find ourselves joint the singer in looking redemption of one sort or another. From then we take a different path for Dirt Road which has the joie de vivre of a hot New Orleans night. It’s not to long before were heading down south for the mariachi trumpet of Maria. A tale of an alluring object of desire. as respite songs like Hand To Hold and Let Me Down Easy take a quieter more acoustic approach that also highlight some easy harmonies among the band. The groove for Steal My Heart is set by Darice Bailey’s piano. Throughout her keyboard skills bring different textures to the band’s sound and vision. Baseline Blues bring hints of that titular branch of roots music into the mix which only serves to highlight the diversity that the band can bring to their music. Yet they give the whole set a cohesiveness due to their overall approach and the unifying strength of Mandell’s live-in voice and love-lost songs. On the strength of this release these Coals should burn bright.

The Coals 'A Happy Animal' - Self-Release

The Coal's frontman Jason Mandell is the chief songwriter  as well as the band's lead vocalist and the producer of this 8 track mini-album and he has a voice that you want to listen to. It has a baritone resonance that has been likened to Jim Croce and I can see that and some other quick comparisons too. Suffice it to say Mandell has a lived-in feel that suits the folk/roots/country nature of the music the band plays. And it is a band;  the other five members of The Coals all contribute to the overall picture.

The tracks were recorded mostly live,  to try and capture the songs in a more personal way. Perhaps the stand-out is the south-of-the-border feel of Maria that is further enhanced by the mariachi trumpet of Ryan Ross. Elsewhere Mandell shares the vocal on Baseline Blues with Sally Dworsky and the two voices balance well. The vocal are strong,  with four of the band adding their backing vocals to the songs. 

Over the eight tracks they vary the mood and delivery in a way that leaves you wanting to hear more. The album opens with a voice predicting the destruction of Los Angeles and ends with a hope that the Lord will equally help keep the train of life on it's tracks. Earlier in the album on Redeem Me the subject of the song looks to be saved from himself. When traveling down a Dirt Road it's with a sense of uptempo hope and opportunity that suggest that redemption may be in reach. The piano, slide guitar and feisty beat suggest that they may indeed make it up the road that life has chosen. A sense of restlessness underpins that search and Hand to Hold sees the need to find another place and yet another hand to hold.

This L.A. band have spirit and heart, and on the strength of this sound to be pretty happy animals. They have produced a set of songs that makes me a happy human animal too.