The 11 songs that make up Lost Shepherds' first foray into recording sound like a balm for the broken-hearted—diaphanous ditties whose hushed beauty is best appreciated late at night with the lights down low. Lost Shepherds may only have two gears—gently loping folk rock and even gentler, lullaby-evoking ballads—but the group makes up for any lack in dynamics through elegance of execution. Eben Stine's boyish tenor is paired at every turn with lovingly layered female harmonies; exuberant xylophone fills and buoyant banjo runs have a knack for dropping in at just the right moment; and lead guitarist Chris Wilson always seems to peel out a tasteful solo at the precise moment the proceedings are in danger of getting too sleepy.
The end result is simultaneously lush and restrained. A band that bears the mark of its isolated origins—Lost Shepherds began as Stine's one-man bedroom recording project—it's been super-sized to a septet while retaining a highly intimate feel. Stine is quick to credit his bandmates for achieving the pleasing musical paradox. "This is my first real band, so in the beginning it was hard listening to other people's thoughts about the songs," he admits. "I met everyone in the band now literally at random. As we've become friends it's become very easy to hand the songs over to them, and really quite freeing. Chris [Wilson] is really the arranger. He directs everyone when to step back, when to play louder. Without his direction it would just be a big mess."
While Lost Shepherds' artful arrangements are what initially grab one's attention, it's Stine's big, beating heart that keeps listeners sticking around. The inspiration for Stine's songs may be firmly rooted in real life experiences, but his lyrics tend toward the dreamy. Most songs read like abstract ruminations on the need for openness and perseverance in order to best brave an often cruel world ("Raise your empty glass/ Let the despair pass / Brave the safe boundaries of the molds we've cast./ Built to last and never to simply grasp. / Hold me fast and let's not decry the past."). Alone on the written page, such sentiments can easily come off as mawkish, but set to Lost Shepherds' soaring melodies they're undeniably uplifting. [Rob van Alstyne, City Pages, September 2010]