The Vermont- and Cape Cod-based band Sensible Shoes spent last summer gigging on the Outer Cape before quietly releasing its debut album, See It My Way, in August. Billed as a collaboration between “Sensible Shoes and Friends,” it’s a baker’s dozen of original songs.
Wellfleet artist Dan Ranalli, known to sing with the band from time to time at the Wellfleet Pearl, designed the cover art. The grid of beach photographs — flat horizons, open seas, clear skies — is a nice metaphor for the album’s communal feel.
The album, produced by former NRBQ guitarist Johnny Spampinato, was recorded mostly in Wellfleet. The core four-piece band — Barbara Blaisdell on keyboards and vocals, Tim Utt on guitar and vocals, Pooh Sprague on bass, and Steve Drebber on drums — is joined by guests galore. Among them are bass master Joey Spampinato (Johnny’s brother, and a founding member of NRBQ), Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio Band), Chas Eller (Unknown Blues Band), Kami Lyle, and Liam Hogg.
The friends don’t get in the way — they add color in all the right ways and in all the right places. It all boils down to the quality of the songs (Blaisdell and Utt are ASCAP Award-winning songwriters.)
The band does it all: power-pop hooks, chuggy R&B, torchlight piano, and hazy blues. One can hear the influence of the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Guy Clark, and Big Star. The smoky feedback in “Live Free or Die” sounds like the Allman Brothers stepped in molasses. “The Flip Side” reveals the band’s penchant for big choruses and hooks that catch. Nothing feels forced; there’s a chemistry that comes from seasoned players never talking over one another.
The album is strong out of the gate with the title track, “See It My Way” — piano-driven, ambling its way along with a radio-friendly chorus and understated guitar attack before transitioning to the next track, “Upper West,” a bittersweet reminiscence about past lives.
The melodies flow as easily as the maple syrup for which Vermont is famous. With a jingle-jangle that would make Roger McGuinn take notice, “January” doesn’t disappoint. And neither does “The Lockout,” which feels as natural as walking your dog on a summer’s day.
Nothing is hurried — lazy rhythms, dirty washes of fuzzy guitar, and solos that peel into long lines. This is the sound of musicians performing together in real time, feeding off a communal vibe.
The guitar solos in “Live Free or Die” feel as if they play themselves. Piano-led songs such as “My November Guest” and “Slippery Slope” are full of Kami Lyle’s trumpet refrains that punctuate with unexpected depth and longing.
The country tinge of “Always Everlasting” drags a little, but when everyone huddles in harmony around the mic, it’s heavenly. When “Funky Dust” — a self-conscious and over-stuffed funk track — appears, it feels like a bit of a throwaway. It’s the kind of song that must be fun live but feels out of place here.
With “Breathe In, Breathe Out,” the band saves the best for last, not just for its indelible refrain, but for its moving narrative — about a widow navigating life with two young children — and some of the tastiest lead guitar work on the whole album. When the fade happens after seven-plus minutes, you want it to keep going. It’s more than a highlight — it’s the highlight, and a perfect way to leave you hanging for the follow-up.
The album is on sale in CD form at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St., and digitally at bandcamp.com.