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Carbon Leaf: Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat 

The first time I heard Carbon Leaf, I assumed they were an Irish band. Maybe it was the mandolin and guitar arrangements, or maybe it was the lyrics that put me in mind of great bands from Eire like the Pogues, but I was sure these dudes were raised on Guinness and brown sauce. Imagine my surprise to find out this five-man band was Virginia born and bred.

What's that got to do with anything, you ask? Not a damn thing, really, except that these guys are capable of surprise, and with their latest CD, Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat, they pull it out once again by launching into a tighter, heavier phase of their career. While nobody could really call them dark by any means, the song cycle Barry Privett and company commit to posterity on this round is a more thoughtful, mature work, leavening sunny skies with melancholy and depth, best exemplified by the simple and affecting, "The War Was in Color," a reflection on war's costs through the eyes of one soldier.

As the album title hints, themes of loss and recovery are prevalent on the album, so much so that one might think of this disc as a concept album. Privett's strong, soaring vocals are well-suited for the material, leaping with hope in one verse and outlining despair in the next. The rest of the band, especially the multifarious string work of Carter Gravatt, is tight and proficient, lending itself equally well to midtempo romps ("Royal One," "Bright Lights") and Celtic-flavored ballads ("Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat"). If you're already a fan of the band, you'll find more to love with this release; if you're not, and you like bands like Del Amitri, snap this one up, toss it in the stereo, listen and repeat.

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