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HAL  •  Hal

When I sat down to listen to this record, it was a beautiful May afternoon. The sun was streaming in through my sliding glass doors and the birds in the trees were singing a song called, "Hey Mister Music Critic, Wouldn't You Rather Be Outside Today?" (Birds don't care about Top 40-minded brevity in their titles). So, I transferred the CD to my Discman, slapped on the headphones, and went for a long, lazy walk.

The first line of the album--"What a lovely dance"--was only the beginning of a strange synchronicity between the music and breezy motion of the day. This record is like springtime pressed into plastic, like portable sunshine, like pocket-sized happiness. It draws deep from the late 60s Southern California sugar mine of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson (in his pre-beard days) and even "Wichita Lineman"-era Glen Campbell. The lyrics are impressionistic, slightly loopy, and all seem to be about letting go of the ballast of everyday life, from those exes who've taken up residence in the corners of your conscience to unpaid electric bills to unjust foreign wars that you can't control one way or another. The melodies yearn upwards into giddy ether, with delicate falsetto balancing on top of even more delicate glockenspiel bells and harp glissandos. The rhythms are made for bi-pedal locomotion. I found my feet walking in time with almost every chorus.

And the songs led me to have some fanciful thoughts--"Whatever happened to those gold foil packets that SweeTarts used to come in?" "Remember the sound of Click-Clacks?" "I wonder what Suzy Healy's doing these days and if her hair is still the color of lemon peels?" "What would happen if you put tiny headphones on a bird and played a recording of another bird's song?"

I'm not going to pretend this album is anything more than very delightful, very accomplished pastiche, but it's got an abundance of heart and a sunshine soul (that perhaps in large doses could border on twee). On this afternoon in May, I couldn't think of a better and more sympathetic companion than Hal.

To add some brief fact to the above whimsy, Hal is an Irish quartet led by two brothers, Paul and Dave Allen. They all look fresh-faced and young and optimistic. This is their first album.

Take it outside with you and see what happens.
• Bill DeMain

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