“No one can accuse Slow Dancing Society (Drew Sullivan) of skimping on the music on The Wagers of Love and Their Songs from the Witching Hour. Sullivan offers up a full 19 tracks over 74 minutes, packed with his signature sound, a warm, round, and lovingly echoed guitar style that has held my attention since I first heard it many albums ago. The Wagers of Love… also finds Sullivan taking this style into new places and shapes, lifting it out of its usual atmosphere of dreamy melancholy and crafting a full-band sound on several tracks–and it all works. There are places here where, even as a long-standing SDS fan, I find myself surprised at moments of rock power, bluesy shreds, and even a little bit of smooth jazz sax. “Greenwood Boulevard” is packed with all the familiar SDS essentials: that tone, a pizzicato accompaniment, tons of sweet soul, gritty riffs, and an indescribable background wash that’s a sure identifier of Sullivan’s sound. In spots he lays out trills that feel like nods to Mark Knopfler. He cranks up the blues on “Evening Falls,” carving those lines out of a starting source of misty drifts and the requisite melancholy. A hit of unexpected sax and drums, and you start to feel those blues creep in until Sullivan opens up a short, sweet, slow-hand solo. There are many of those out-of-nowhere moments to enjoy. There’s a spot in “Turning In” where a sudden burst of wah-loaded goodness drops some hefty hell, yeah potency. “Are You Still There” moves from its initial quiet and moody state to develop a smooth sense of casual funk. You’ll hear the guitar’s cool gangster lean when it slides in. Aside from these ear-catching moments, what comes through as clearly as always on a Slow Dancing Society release is the incredible depth of feeling. Sullivan is a very emotive player, finding something to say with every note that rings with an amazing sense of personal relevance. These are thoughts we’ve had, things we’ve been through, moments we’ve experienced, and it takes these notes to pull them up. Even the soulful heartbreak sax that closes everything out in the last moments of “Love Isn’t Love Until It’s Passed” manages to take what could be a bit of a cheesy smooth jazz sound and make it meaningful.
There’s so much to listen to on The Wagers of Love…, and all of it’s good. Is 19 tracks a little exorbitant? Maybe, and some listeners may not prefer to take in so much of Sullivan’s signature style all at once–there is the risk of sameness. Personally, I can never get enough of this sound, and I think there’s enough variation and playing with the core idea to keep it from getting stale. Deep down, I think what you’re hearing is the sound of a talented musician really, really enjoying himself. I believe you’ll enjoy it, too. A lot.”