Transplant the prairie skirt rock of the Innocence Mission to the cruel urban metropolis and there stands this acoustic duo from Staten Island, New York. The degree of Professor and Maryann’s appeal hinges not on one’s penchant for Gilligan’s Island reruns but for hearts-and-flowers romance; the unbroken sincerity of Ken Rockwood’s songwriting on Fairy Tale could benefit from a shot or two of cynicism and wit. Likewise, the babywoman vocals of partner Danielle Brancaccio — equal parts Clare Grogan (Altered Images) and Claudine Longet (including the poor enunciation of both) — slather too much cutesypoo icing over sentimental bon-bons like “You Can’t Use a Broken Heart.” To his credit, real-life academic Rockwood writes likable tunes and possesses a conversational tenor; Fernando Kral’s clean, crisp production flatters his simple guitar playing. The faux-hipster vibe of “The Only Cool Spot in Town” and “Dog Tired” suggest that he may mature into an amusing storyteller.
The punning title of Lead Us Not Into Penn Station is just the first indication that the milk of human kindness has begun to sour for the duo, and not a moment too soon. “House by the Water” implies that Rockwood would love to blow the big city, but the song’s non-stop energy colors his writing for the better; “Flea Circus,” “Cadillac (I’m Still in Love With You)” and especially the resigned “Stumbling Home” all demonstrate the interplay of light and dark missing from the debut. More importantly, Brancaccio has shaved that extra perkiness from her delivery, yielding infinitely more charismatic results, particularly on “Tropical Rain.” A most promising follow-up.