Last Good Tooth’s frontman Penn Sultan is gifted with a rolling, stout baritone, a commanding voice he uses to color songs with everything from wry humor to desperation.
Sultan, whose vocals exist somewhere on the spectrum near Bill Callahan, Lambchop’s Kurt Warner and The Handsome Family’s Brett Sparks, leads his band through an hour-long second album of nuanced folk-rock, filled with unexpected twists both musical and lyrical.
The opening song, “Shell,” stretches out leisurely across seven minutes and 46 seconds, building on itself, the guitar and violin weaving their counter-melodies together. “Please be careful with your mind,” sings Sultan, the album’s first words, setting the tone for the reflective, big-picture subject matter.
As the title suggests, this is an album about weighing things against each other, about the desire for balance, about decisions and their consequences. It puts a different spin on the biblical notion of scales representing judgment, internalizing the review of deeds and misdeeds as an everyday guide.
“I placed everything on one side, so I try to calibrate it right,” sings Sultan on “Our Little Machine,” a hard-driving blend of guitars and piano that explores the irrationality behind much of what drives people.
On “This Light,” bursts of horn pivot the album in a neo-lounge direction, a dose of vintage Hollywood swagger that makes Last Good Tooth sound like a long-lost big band, indulging their own off-kilter whims without sacrificing melody or glamour.
And just as quickly, And All Things On The Scales settles into an entirely rustic groove to kick off “Vices,” the country fiddle and finger-picked guitar sauntering around Sultan’s easy-going croon. Halfway, however, the song finds another gear, with the propulsive drums pushing Sultan louder and louder, as he sings about temptation and the things that make us feel good.
The album’s second half doesn’t shine as brightly as the first, with a couple longer, sleepy tracks taking a step back toward more conventional folk-rock. But the closing “Amazing Breakthrough” sounds distinctly like Last Good Tooth, and drives back to the metaphor of the scales, making for a satisfying conclusion, even before the band unleashes a cacophony of drums, horns and shouts.
Last Good Tooth—Sultan on lead guitar and vocals, Alex Spoto on violin, Kevin Sullivan on bass and Arthur Kapp on drums—is an often beguiling band, especially as they color confidently outside typical Americana lines.