When it comes to genre signifiers, the word eclectic is often code for "jam band." And while Milagro Saints don't trade in the endless noodling and sometimes-gibberish lyrics of Phish or Widespread Panic, the songs on their latest album, Chance & Circumstance, still allow for expansion as the situation merits. If the mandolin or keys want a few more bars, there's space. And though structurally open-ended, Milagro Saints' modernized pop-Americana tunes are definitely about something; think the slickly produced storytelling of Wallflowers and Blues Traveler as a close cousin.
Familiar roots-music tropes abound: There's the town-specific ode to a girl, "Pennsylvania Rose," the late-night highway meditation shuffle, "Ghost," and the long-form closer "Other Side of the River," in which the river becomes the metaphor. "Morning Song" rides a good-times shuffle, while "These Things (About You)" opens with a zydeco bounce before leading into a hook that, well, brings you back.
With careful textures and strong melodies, the songs certainly stick on Chance & Circumstance, but the density of the production sometimes doesn't gel with the endemic meander of Milagro's frequent solos. Some songs could definitely use a trim—the piano solo in "Gonna Rain Again" and much of "Pennsylvania Rose" are prime candidates—though environmental call to action "Don't Give It Up" deserves its seven minutes. This activist epic is built on a masterfully solid groove. But what really sets "Don't Give It Up" apart hits a little after the fourth minute, with a surprising nod to Blood, Sweat & Tears' trip-pop masterpiece, "Spinning Wheel." It's an arresting moment, one of the few stops on an album of seemingly perpetual Americana jam.