Walking for Pennies – Forget about Wonderland (2012)

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The newly released debut album from Andy Jobe and Neeley Bridges seems, at first, to be like an easy peg: Heartfelt, kind of country-ish? Got it: 1970s singer-songwriter.

Put an ear to Jobe’s soulful and contemplative “This One’s For Me,” a song that’s starkly confessional but at the same time so very hummable — like a great old Jim Croce side, right? This spritely trumpet propels “Truth Be Told” even further toward this polyester era theme, as Bridges sings with the haughty vigor so closely associated with the decade’s newly empowered women.

The title track, too, might have been a lost Cat Stevens tune, with its gently undulating guitar signature and its flinty introspective message — but there is a narrative complexity, this dramatic musical sweep, that makes the song utterly their own.

Walking for Pennies, it quickly becomes clear, isn’t so easily pigeonholed.

Similarly, “Nashville” seems at first to be nothing but a front-porch picker, another story about someone who longs for more set to a comfy folk counterpoint. But as Bridges opens her voice up to the possibilities out there, to all of the roads she might travel, there follows this thrum of emotion — a very real sense of hope, but also a gritty sense of pride in having moved on.

“Black Picket Fences” continues these dark ruminations, sounding at times so completely defeated. “Who Am I Supposed To Be,” though, nicely rebounds — finding Bridges remembering, with no small amount of humor, how she ended up as a dog walker despite having a college degree. Fast forward a little bit, and this pair has emerged not only with a winkingly fun name for its band but also a smart album of songs to show for having survived the lean times.

Not everything on Forget About Wonderland, unfortunately, is so distinctive. Bridges’ “I Know Better” has an admirable sense of determination, but the duo’s rootsy undertow is only a brief distraction from the tune’s rather bland pop hook. Ultimately, though, that takes nothing from an album brave enough to include a story song like “The Frozen Man,” with its trickling stringed signature and writerly, well-conceived images.

Walking for Pennies may have just begun their journey, but I have a feeling they’re going to go a long way.

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Forget About Wonderland

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