Hesitation Eyes is an album of amiable, non-confrontational alt.country/AM rock with more than a handful of overt allusions to ’70s power pop. This may sound unremarkable in theory, but it proves to be somewhat successful in practice. The main problem is that the two writers who make up the band, David Dewese and Jerry James, aren’t writing material at the same level. Whoever it is whose voice is a dead ringer for the most bleary-eyed, but lyrically focused Jeff Tweedy on “Harvard Hands” is the strongest link here. His calloused and groggy vocals act as a nice compliment to dusty, rural stomp of the instruments. The other singer’s contributions are weaker and more nasal in comparison.
The band navigates the lyrical cliché minefield without too many incidents, but there’s a definite predilection, on the part of both songwriters, for relating tales of heartbreak and unrequited love. It’s fairly underwhelming, given how straightforward the material is presented, and it leads to a dichotomy that runs throughout the album: the songs are either immediately catchy and memorable or formulaic and forgettable. Take “The Lazy Librarian’s Son” for example; its shimmering guitars and breezy rhythm section are only bolstered by the brief foray into driving rock chords on its bridge. “Are You Tired?” doesn’t hold up under the same scrutiny. Its ending, with minutes of inexplicable field recordings of abstract, ambient sounds, is completely unnecessary and momentum-killing. The closing title track goes some distance toward rescuing the album with some quality bar band swagger, but the ultimate aftertaste is unfulfilling and more likely to spur the listener to dig out their Big Star and Wilco albums rather than put on Hesitation Eyes again.