Slated to be released in February 2015, Heartbeat Serenade is the third full-length album released by CommonUnion59, a duo comprised of Steve McKenzie (vocal, guitar, banjo) and Laura Malasig (vocal, piano, glockenspiel) and helped by Kevin Hayes (drums, percussions) and Jake Leckie (bass). The San Francisco based pair write and perform original music that although based on personal experiences, is universal in the themes and emotions they encompass. One can feel how both McKenzie and Malasig poured their hearts into each simple yet eloquent track in this album.
The album opens with “It’s Alright”, a very country, upbeat, drum and guitar driven song you might find your foot tapping away to. The listeners CommonUnion59 journey starts with the lyrics “I love you/I do” which in a way helps set the tone of the album, as love is but one of the universal emotions the band touches upon. The following four songs are also distinctly country and feature Malasig’s vocals. With “American Dream” the listener realises that simplicity defines the tracks on this album; there are very few layers to the tracks, but each is complex in the melodies and tones it encompasses as well as in the themes and topics it touches upon. One also realises, only at the second track, that this band just might be worth seeing live; “American Dream” for example is a combination of lead female vocals, backup male vocals, a guitar, and, hallway through, a banjo joining in to gently pluck a few notes here and there. It makes for a potentially great live performance.
The beat is taken down a notch with “The River Song” in which the female vocals are particularly noteworthy as is the instrumental break marking the halfway mark. “From Where We Are” ups the beat just a little bit, just enough to match the heightening emotions. The plucked guitar and the soft drumming give “Little White House” a soft, soothing quality marking the midpoint of the album.
“Heartbeat Serenade” marks a big change in direction. It features many of the same elements as its predecessors: simple layering, soothing quality, heartfelt lyrics. But instead of a country song, this track is inspired by 1960s soft rock, a surprise and a sharp contrast to the first five tracks. As the lead vocals are male for the first time in the album, this track feels like the first on a completely different album. “Today” is more of the same: the male, guitar backed-up vocals are much more soft rock that anything else. Drums add a soothing rhythm and the piano that joins in halfway through adds emotional intensity.
The male vocal led songs interlude ends with “Catch The Wind”, an emotional track that sets the scene well for the even more emotional “Not Dead Inside”. This track starts simple enough—at first with only a piano accompanying Malasig and McKenzie backing her up for the chorus. A gentle guitar and some soft drumming join halfway through the track, slowly building in intensity without breaking away from CommonUnion59’s overall soothing sounds, but emphasizing the claim of the lead singer that she is not dead inside. “This Universe”, a gentle song about celebrating life and our connection to each other and the universe, closes off Heartbeat Serenade.
Songs of love, hope, dreams, happiness, and heartache, inspired by their own lives and the world around them, are polished to a high shine by CommonUnion59’s McKenzie and Malasig. Heartbeat Serenade has broad appeal in its very simplicity. The album can be streamed on SoundCloud, and more information about the band is available on their website.