So many musicians across all genres cite The Beatles as their main influence. The claim has become like citing air as influential upon one’s life. That influence is so trite and ordinary that to actually hear The Beatles within the inspired compositions is a rare feat. Troy and Paula Haag avoid this trap. Although drenched in Americana and singer songwriter traditions the music of Troy and Paula Haag clearly demonstrates their love of the Fab Four’s more layered acoustic songs such as “Mother Nature’s Son”, “Julia”, and “Something”. In addition the duo’s bio points out that one of their first collaborations was a cover of the Jayhawks song “Trouble”. This is an apt accomplishment as the Jayhawks in many ways were the first to mine the independent Americana influences of The Beatles as well as the solo work of most notably Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Both Troy and Paula’s back stories are full of family and environmental influences that have shaped the music they are making today. Troy spent his early years overseas after being born in Hawaii, which undoubtedly exposed him to all types of music. While Paula spent her youth in South Carolina and Warren County Virginia which is considered to be a distant part of the Washington DC metro area.
Troy and Paula Haag’s debut release The Century is a fine collection of songs with rich lyrical content, acoustic textures, and vocal harmonies. The guitar playing and compositions in general are very interesting and enjoyable. If there is any surface criticism it is with Troy’s lead vocals, which can be weak at times as if he is holding back in some way. When Paula joins his voice, the harmonies are quite strong and appealing leaving the listener wanting more.
The collection starts off with the song “The Night Sleeper” which immediately brings to mind the Jayhawks approach to The Beatles filtered through their unique Folk Country perspective especially their harmonic approach to the chorus. “April 18th, 1906” has a beautiful introduction of acoustic guitars. As the title indicates it is a classically constructed story song on a par with other songs about tragic historic scenes from North American history such as “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot and “Revolution Blues” by Neal Young. The next track “Virginia” delves into another American Folk tradition, with an ambiguously dark ballad about of love and loss. The fate of the eponymous subject is somewhat ambiguous, but the final line indicates a violent end. Easily the most compelling song on the record, “The Poet” builds layers of driving acoustic guitars intertwined with bitterly flavored lyrics. “Wasted It Away” is a lovely ballad that refreshes the tempo of the collection while “Tomorrow’s Yesterday” praises a lover and brings the strong harmonies between Troy and Paula from earlier tracks. “Say Goodnight” is one of the most overtly Country flavored songs with its melodic guitar riffs and themes. Unfortunately “My Constellation” and “Falling (Somewhere in the Night)” are mostly forgettable tracks. They are still adequately played and comprised, but do not stand out in any way. The final song, “Sleepers Awake”, get backs to the more charming elements of the album. There is a good combination of contemporary singer songwriter and Americana elements.
Overall the instrumentation and the lyrics on The Century are solid. Troy and Paula Haag are without a doubt accomplished songwriters and musicians. Troy’s lead vocals are a little weak and missing something that could very well be in the mix or recording technique, but when the harmonies with Paula kick in, there is truly something wonderful happening between the two of them.
Review by Michael Cusanelli
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)