Listening to Counting Crows guitarist Dan Vickrey’ side project, Tender Mercies, I was immediately drawn to their Gram Parsons-esque sounds. There is a definable twang that alt-country has pushed in the past few decades in an attempt to get back to their folk/country roots and away from that pop-country sound that so many consider to define the genre today. It seems that all you need is to sing with a husky Southern accent and it’s called country, but what Tender Mercies and Vickrey in particular show on their self-titled debut on Collective Sounds is that you can have strong instrumentation behind a rich, easy vocal.
Vickrey is a bit monotonic throughout and while slightly distracting on certain tracks, it doesn’t take away from the overall listening experience. There were times when I was when I hoped he’d let his voice rise just a bit or bring a little more force to his subject matter, but Parsons rarely if ever did, and that seems to be Tender Mercies’ model. There’s that early Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” vibe to it as well, which is much more Glenn Frey than Don Henley. Music is about feeling, it is most successful when it conveys emotion and in turn the listener turns that into their own experiences. This album makes you feel something like loneliness, a feeling of missing someone or something and it’s such a subtle longing that it feels like it was so long ago that those memories are on the verge of fading if not put down on paper.
Many of these songs were written before he joined Counting Crows and only now are they seeing the light of day after sitting on a shelf for 20 years. That’s not to say that these were recorded way back then as Vickrey has been hard at work putting this album out and touring in support of his Tender Mercies debut. All things being equal, this is a solid debut. I want to hear more, I want them to fully develop their sound and not just be a one off like so many promising side projects are these days. With a lack of new material coming out of Counting Crows coffers it may be that this auspicious debut may lead to more alt-country easy living tunes down the road. I’d love to see where Vickrey’s head is at now with new material. Time will tell.