When we last left Marah in 2002, the Philadelphia band had blown its shot at minor-league music success. After building a cult fan base with two solid roots-rock albums, the group released Float Away With the Friday Night Gods, a bloated arena-rocker that left fans baffled and records unsold. Perhaps that's why 20,000 Streets Under the Sky sounds like an apology to jaded fans--but that's a disadvantage for new listeners.
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The banjo-fueled foot stomp of "Pigeon Heart" and the Saturday-night synth-romp of "Going Thru the Motions" are seamless blends of Marah's Americana influences, but other tracks expose those influences a bit too obviously. "Freedom Park," despite its catchiness, merely combines a cheerleader's chant with Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender," while "Sure Thing" and "Soda" mimic Elvis Costello's style rather than expand on it. Meanwhile, lyrics are less earnest than past efforts, which makes the slower songs drag, although the witty nostalgia of "Pizzeria" is a storytelling highlight. 20,000 succeeds in scattered moments, but for most of the album, Marah wastes its musical muscles winning back old fans rather than growing into a greater band.