Lemon Sparks: Raincloud In the Sun | ★★★★ | Urban Myth Recordings Oct. 29

Jeff Carroll has shown up in album credits for years, but more for his technical expertise than for his own music: He has mastered records by Mandolin Orange (now Watchhouse), Ron Sexsmith, 6 String Drag, and I Was Totally Destroying It.

But every few years he steps away from his Mac, straps on a Gibson, and spouts a new batch of finely crafted power pop songs. Raincloud in the Sun is the latest by Lemon Sparks, Carroll’s trio that released its self-titled debut in 2015.

Lemon Sparks showcased original Carroll songs for the first time in 15 years, making up for lost time while mining rock history. The album split the difference between the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Big Star’s #1 Record, melding quirky ambiance and crunchy guitars. The group tied it all together with gorgeous melodies, heartfelt lyrics, and a jumped-up cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”

At the time, Lemon Sparks joined a run of sophisticated, Wrecking Crew–worthy pop records from Triangle artists, alongside Up in the Air by Brett Harris, Oleander by Skylar Gudasz, I Still Look for You by Anne-Claire, New Songs for the 20th Century by Chris Stamey, and Game Day by Peter Holsapple.

Six years later, Raincloud in the Sun picks up where Lemon Sparks’ debut left off and returns with a darker edge better suited to the pandemic era.

“Don’t call me if you’re bleeding in the night,” Carroll sings. “I won’t be there in the right ways.” Gone is the bubbly mood of songs like “Carl Wilson’s War” and “Digging Up Flowers,” replaced by the bittersweet melancholy of “When You Close Your Eyes” and “Ellie.” Carroll’s textured, understated vocals convey both moods equally well.

Every member of the group contributes to the new album’s dense layers. Drummer and percussionist Greg Tourian also sings backup. So does bassist Rick Lassiter, who adds guitar, keys, and strings. Lassiter contributes a song for the first time, the wistful, REM-ish “Canyon.” Guest musicians include Don Kerr, a longtime Sexsmith sideman, and Holsapple, who plays Hammond organ on the soaring, Spoon-like title track.

The latter is one of several places where Raincloud in the Sun transcends its dark times and rocks out, along with “Laughable” and “Jangaroo” (a nod to Big Star’s “Kangaroo,” perhaps?), which features funked-up electric piano from another guest, Todd Montgomery. If the new album never quite reaches the lofty heights of Lemon Sparks’ debut, it’s a worthy successor and a booster shot on the cusp of another uncertain year.

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.

Comment on this story at music@indyweek.com.