In pop music, stealth and restraint often go unheralded, yet these qualities are every bit as important as flash and dazzle; subtlety, in the right hands, can pack as much punch as obviousness. Husband-and-wife duo Michele and Rick Gedney, aka Open Book, know all of this, and their third CD, Grateful, exemplifies the low-key power of haunting melody buttressed with expansive harmony, the satisfaction of adroit wordplay entwined with skillfully understated musicianship. Perhaps you'd forgotten the deep pleasures of a pulsing beat switching from straight time to cut time, an undistorted Stratocaster layered over a bed of acoustic strumming, a lap steel mournfully keening at the edge of a song. Grateful will remind you.
Ace drummer Dave McNamara captured Grateful at the Gedneys' home in Cold Spring. He populates it with some of the Catskills' finest Americana musos, and their additions of color and feel help make this radio-ready collection shine. All originals but one are Michele's, and her distillation powers are impressive indeed; the title track is both longing and celebration; "This is Yours Now" makes loss a thing of breathless beauty; "The Earth Will Move" is whispered, but potent, encouragement. Meanwhile, Rick's accompaniment—as distinctive harmony vocalist, co-arranger, and guitarist—cannot be underestimated. Those Gedney harmonies get showcased to great effect on Open Book's take on Lennon and McCartney's "The Night Before"—rebooted here as a great ballad—and the Richard Thompson/Neil Finn folk-pop gem "Persuasion." Bittersweet rarely sounds so good, or necessary. Openbookmusic.com.