Jaunty and homespun, “Mercenary Heart” has the loose-limbed warmth of Yo La Tengo’s acoustic side. Underneath the mild-mannered ambiance, however, is the same kind of songwriting diligence that Soltero has displayed the previous two times they’ve been featured here (in 2004 and 2008).
Although not as extremely positioned as the Cub Scouts song regarding resolution, or lack thereof, singer/songwriter Tim Howard definitely uses unresolved moments to his advantage here, employing melody lines both in the verse and in the chorus that end before resolving. Rather than leaving the ear hanging, however, Howard lets the music resolve after the singing stops, which, in addition to the breezy pace, is what gives the song its sense of relentless motion.
I also like how effectively Howard works with sound, and how he shows that you don’t have to go nuts with strange and novel sonic elements to create compelling textures. Here, Howard works with little more than two guitar sounds and the regular and upper register of his own voice. True to the cliche, less can often be more.
Soltero recorded four albums as a (usually) four-piece band in Boston from 2000 to 2005. The fifth album, in 2008, was pretty much a solo endeavor for Howard, who was then living in Philadelphia. He went on to live in North Carolina and Central America before settling recently in Brooklyn. “Mercenary Heart” is a song from 1943, the latest Soltero album, set for release next week. The album was recorded largely with Alex Drum (who is in fact a drummer), but playing live now the band is back to four pieces. Note that there are two other songs in addition to this one available as free and legal MP3s via Bandcamp.