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Review: Zach and Maggie’s The Elephant in the Room

An album that opens with a polka imagining what might happen if the “elephant in the room” is literally an elephant in a room and closes with an emotional journey through family life that plays a bit like the flashback scene in “Up,” punctuated by Paganini, indicates the extraordinary range of Nashville duo Zach and Maggie.

The Elephant in the Room is a remarkable collection of songs that might make you laugh and cry in equal turns, and might send you to Google to look up references like “Lancelot Link.” The sometimes off-kilter storytelling creates vivid images of people I’d like to meet, which I count as a great accomplishment in a story-song. Melancholy nostalgia and tender vocals flavor songs like “Last Living Memory,” which ponders, like the Pixar film Coco, what sadness there might be when there is no one left to tell our story.

Playing against the melancholy, bright world beats create the happiest song you’ll ever hear about the Cuban missile crisis, the space race, and the Bay of Pigs invasion. An image of a tireless robin soaking up the sky so it can color her eggs is a paean to the unseen “least of these” who color our worlds. And a wry commentary on gentrification uses subtle observations about, say, the perceived value of graffiti to make a less-than-subtle point about the value of humankind.

And goodness, let’s spare a thought for the instrumentals. These romps are as clever as the rest of the album, inhabiting an accessible sweet spot in the middle of bluegrass, folk, and pop music.

Zach and Maggie’s first full-length album is a delight. It’s an overused phrase to say that a record will take you on a “musical journey,” but it is so appropriate here. There is plenty of whimsy for laughing and dancing, and enough thoughtful reflection to make you think about life in new ways. This is a gifted pair in fine form.


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