Working at a safe distance from the music world’s stylistic hotspots, this Omaha, Nebraska trio recasts the delicate art-rock of recent English progressives (the Durutti Column and Eyeless in Gaza come to mind) and the gentler side of Ultravox-y techno-pop with unpretentious Midwest sincerity and small-scale forthrightness. Essence offers nine diverse songs tastefully crafted in shifting instrumental permutations of Dereck Higgins (bass, keyboards, drums, guitar), John Tingle (guitar) and Steve Sheehan (vocals, keyboards). Although colorless at times, the excellently played material is soothing and substantial, and occasionally quite pretty.
The nineteen-track Essence & Charm CD includes the LP, both sides of a mediocre 1983 single, one slightly Devoesque Sheehan solo effort and another album’s worth of previously unreleased material that lacks the earlier work’s appealing tastefulness. While some of the songs merely overheat the guitar-rock (drummer Kevin Kennedy is no smoothie), things really nosedive on the Cure-accented “Without Hesitation,” which inexplicably contains the sound of someone belching.