Atlanta-based Soup has released a collection of bright, catchy songs on its newest disc, Breakdown. Jam band fans will no doubt agree that the arrangements here are rather tight and the songs themselves are well-played and filled with hooks. The big debate that may follow among some listeners will turn on people’s views of the poppier and more commercial side of this genre. If you enjoy the song arrangements and story-telling of folk-based groups such as Chicago’s Hello Dave then you’ll probably like this disc. So where do I come down on this one? Let tell you, I enjoyed this album quite a bit, and it’s been my record of choice in our apartment this month To be fair to the other side though, my roommate is not as enamored of Breakdown as I am, as he finds it a bit too commercial (to which I say “so what.”)

Okay, on to the review. But before I get to the music I do want to point out however, how nicely put together this package is. Breakdown is a self-released album but you sure wouldn’t know it. The disc comes with a ten page booklet full of band photos, lyrics and other information (loosely linked around the breakdown of the band’s van- photo credits extend to Allstate Insurance Co. which I found pretty amusing). It was a pleasure to sit back and read along with the songs, sort of like the old days of vinyl when there were record sleeves.

As for the music, the band’s instrumentation is predominantly acoustic, although at times this quintet does plug in. The level of performance is solid throughout. In particular Lee Adkins stands out for his bass work, as he does a nice job of defining the spaces. Kevin Crow takes some nice acoustic guitar leads during such songs as “Marvin Wright.” Andrew Margolius paints in some textures on accordion, keeping with the acoustic flavor of the disc (I enjoyed this, although again, my roommate occasionally found it to be a bit much). Above all, however, the unifying theme is the vocals, and Erik Rowen’s bright, friendly vocal tones are enhanced through some really strong harmonies.

Let’s walk through the release. The opener “Breakdown” is a lively track that shows you the best of Soup- fine vocals from Rowen enhance an appealing melody, with some nice saxophone vamps from David Kurzman. “Sovereign State” which follows is a bit more textured, a six minute track reminiscent of something you’d find on the new Dave Mathews Band album. “Leisure Suit,” is another highlight, a funk-laced track that effectively echoes the sounds of the 70’s. While most of the songs are upbeat and fun, the band takes a serious turn with “Lucky’s Not A Beggar.” I enjoyed this serious reflection of a man’s life decisions and I wish that Breakdown offered a few more songs with such serious content. Moving on, I have to admit I am still scratching my head about “Jefferson,” which is sort of a Broadway show tune about Thomas Jefferson, with a children’s chorus and various singers. There are some other songs here that don’t quite work for me, for instance “Coffee Cup” and “Papasan Chair’ drift a bit too far into the lite-FM realm. Also, at times the harmonies can be at bit overwhelming, even cloying, on such tunes as “Salley’s Sister.” Nonetheless, all in all, Breakdown is a well-crafted, friendly disc which offers plenty of songs that I’ll be humming for days to come. If this is what you’re looking for in a jam band release, then you owe it to yourself to find a copy.