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The folks at Gypsy Eyes Records seem to operate with a thoroughly mid-American mix of humility and professionalism. The Web site of the D.C. label has old-timey flourishes and earthy colors, while its four CD releases have good production values and smartly designed cover art. It’s an aesthetic that says: Get a whole lotta value for yer big-city indie dollar. If pay dirt for the label seems to be right around the corner, it easily could come via Vandaveer’s Grace & Speed, a surprisingly accomplished set of folk-ribbed and rock-informed tunes. It’s a one-man band—guitarist-singer Mark Charles Heidinger, the D.C.-based frontman of Kentucky rock outfit the Apparitions—and he seems to have a firm understanding of the pitfalls of copping too much from Dylan or Drake. The album opener, “However Many Takes It Takes,” has a bit of Uncle Bob’s double-edged lyricism (“But nothing’s ever as it seems/You find yourself farther downstream, alone/Save for the echoes of your screams”), while “Different Cities” has a strong Pink Moon vibe, even though its message isn’t accordingly obfuscated. (It’s basically a dignified shout-out to Heidinger’s old pals and his adopted metropolis.) Despite Heidinger’s obvious penchant for vinyl-era heroes, he’s not a blatant rehasher; the songs exude his own brand of confidence. Elsewhere, his storytelling takes precedence, and he tends to strike a balance between artistry and schmaltz: “Marianne, You’ve Done It Now” is a showy postmortem of a doomed starlet, complete with slightly sinister vocals and a wandering clarinet line in the background (“If you listen now and then/You’ll hear her favorite tune whistling in the wind”). And on “The Streets Is Full Of Creeps,” he tells the tale of a beat cop who goes postal and pulls the gun on himself; the melody evokes an era of soot, gaslights, and road apples. The second half of Grace & Speed is much weaker lyrically. “2nd Best” is a thin relationship sketch; “Parasites & Ghosts” has platitudes to spare (“Beatniks and preachers can be friends/Presidents and kings are only men”); and the album-closing rocker, “Roman Candle,” feels like an obligatory reminder of Heidinger’s other musical exploits. But his vocal phrasing—a bit nasal, a bit gentlemanly—ultimately sells the songs. He’s an unrepentant troubadour, for sure, but he doesn’t come off like a poseur.
Vandaveer plays Thursday, March 29, at 8:30 p.m. at Iota Club & Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. (703) 522-8340.