Last year’s Oscar buzz was bogged down with hype over the Coen Brothers’ remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit, originally a novel by Charles Portis.  Eleven months prior to that film’s theatrical release, however, yet another piece of pop culture featuring the phrase “True Grit” officially debuted.  And it ultimately proved more compelling than the decidedly overrated film.

That release was The Juggler’s Progress, the fifth album by San Francisco-based band True Margrit.  True Margrit derives its namesake from its unusually-named frontwoman Margrit Eichler, but also serves as an homage to the group’s love of literature like the 1968 novel by Portis.

Much of The Juggler’s Progress is filled with other literary references, demonstrating Eichler’s bookish awareness similar to that of Decemberists singer Colin Meloy.  Further exemplifying Eichler’s similarities to the Decemberists, the singer also doubles as a short story writer and entitled one of the band’s albums Seaworthy.

Aside from love of literature and the sea, True Margrit has little in common with folksy singers like Meloy.  The band’s musical output is more closely aligned with piano-driven pop artists like Ben Folds or Fiona Apple, and The Juggler’s Progress often surpasses the quality of those two acclaimed artists.

The first four tracks on The Juggler’s Progress stride along with upbeat spunk, pausing only slightly during the intro for the fifth track “50,000 Names.”  Eichler sings with a strong, smoky voice that’s lower-than-average in pitch yet equipped with an impressive range.

While songs like “Metaphor” and “Casseroles & Thunderstorms” are softer and more subdued than the rest of the album, there are no weepy, bland ballads on The Juggler’s Progress.  Most of the album is packed with upbeat piano pop/rock, a genre in which it is difficult to excel.  Although many forgettable piano pop rock bands seem like cheap imitations of Billy Joel or Elton John, True Margrit is refreshing and intriguing.

Part of that uniqueness is due to band members besides Eichler, as the group’s musical ability beyond the piano shines through on several songs such as the orchestral “Lucy,” complete with a driving bass and a soaring string arrangement.  ”500 Years” even features a glimpse of a guitar solo.

Another aspect of the group’s appeal stems from its musical diversity.  While several songs sound fit for pop radio, title track “The Juggler’s Progress” could easily be placed in a Broadway play with its pounding keys, changing tempos, prominent melody, and applause samples.  Songs like “Make Them Beg” wouldn’t be out of place on a jazz compilation.

The Juggler’s Progress and True Margrit’s other albums are currently available for direct purchase on several locations online.  If you’re a fan of lyrically-oriented, jazzy piano pop/rock, click here to listen to True Margrit on Earbits Radio.

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