Having only started in 2011, Vocal Few has quickly established themselves as one of the finest singer/songwriter duos with their She'll Be Alright EP in 2012 and the follow up Tall Trees EP in 2013. Now on their third EP, entitled The Dream Alive, husband and wife Matt and Kristie MacDonald take an even more bare bones approach with Matt playing acoustic guitar and Kristie on keys, only accented with small doses of cello, handclaps, and percussion shakers. While this simplistic instrumentation is an attractive element of the duo's sound, it's their vocals that draw you in with Matt's veiled majestic singing complemented by Kristie's beautiful, relaxing voice.
Unlike "We'll Make It Someday" and "This Road," "The Corner Dwellers" quietly opens the EP as a social commentary about society's perception of the homeless. From the lonely sound of cars driving through the rain in the intro to being washed in melancholy vocals at the end, the song pulls you into their world, challenging you to think and act more compassionately towards those who are deemed outsiders by society. "Time" is a bit more upbeat, but just as weighty. With lyrics like "if our lives get boiled down to who what when where and how / then nothing outside of now can ever last," it forces you to reflect on the temporality of our time on earth and what matters most in your life. From its even-keeled verses to its slower bridge, "Time" highlights the emotional impact of how Matt and Kristie change the tempo and music to match what they are saying. They also use a few rhymes and a lot more near-rhymes here and throughout the EP, making the songs gorgeously fluid.
Continuing with the deep lyrical content, "Take Me Back Again" captures the struggle of perpetually slipping into sin, and God's faithfulness to take us back in our humility and repentance. The title-track changes the tone of the EP, mainly due to its bright acoustic guitar riff and synthesized hand-claps. It's the only poppy song on the EP but it is not as catchy or thought-provoking as "Misunderstood" from their Tall Trees EP. "You've Been Written" returns to the steady pace from the first half of the EP. The chorus here features the best harmonization between the couple, making for a sweet moment on the EP. The Dream Alive closes with the slower "Blue," transparently digging into Kristie's brokenness from Matt's perspective, using the word blue as a poetic and powerful way of communicating depression: "love is supposed to be the thing that remains, but everything changes when you bleed blue."
Though this album is fantastic, there is still room for improvement, namely the songs' tendency to run together and the lack of true stand-outs, like "One Day Soon" and "Misunderstood." But what the album lacks in highlights it largely makes up for in its overall sturdiness. Also, the poignancy and simplicity of The Dream Alive makes each repeated listen more rewarding than the last. With each of their EP's providing a fleshed out and tangible sense of their stage of life and emotional state, The Dream Alive is another stellar entry for an exciting artist.
- Review date: 10/18/15, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com