“Another Circle of Fifths” starts off Michael the Blind‘s Are’s & Els with jaunty fingerpicking and swooping violins, signifying that there will folk. But shortly thereafter, Michael Levasseur (not actually blind, as far as I can tell) starts strumming his slightly distorted guitar. If that wasn’t a tip-off that something slightly out of the ordinary was about to happen, second track “Instead” starts off with a definitively distorted guitar and a snare-heavy, punk-styled drumbeat. The history of folk and rock coming together is indeed long and storied, but in Levasseur’s hands it still sounds interesting and unusual.
Levasseur sounds comfortable in garage rock howl mode and pensive folk mode, and that duality allows his crossover moves to break ankles instead of land flat. “Can’t Stay” is a paranoiac rock’n’roll tune that kicks the
guitar autoharp into even higher overdrive for the chorus, while the very next tune (“Metaphor Life”) is a rollicking folk/country tune with fingerpicking and incredible lyrics. There are seven other tunes on the album, but those four encapsulate the diversity of talents that Levasseur possesses. He can sing, he can holler, he can turn phrases, he can rock, he can folk out. His band backs him up with panache. There you have it: a recipe for a good album.
“Who Is She?” busts out some ’90s guitar-rock vibes but maintains Levasseur’s easily recognizable vocal tone to give it character, while “All and More” is a dark rumination on the state of the world. (If I had to grade it, I’d say tht modern life gets about a C- in this song’s estimation.) “Sympathies” is a long, flowing piece that will get the fingerpicking fans out in force. The only real downside is “Have It Out,” which sees Levasseur repeating the title phrase at the top of his lungs 37 times. (I counted.)
From the opening tip to the final parting blow, Are’s and Els is an engaging listen. Fans of folk will find some unexpected twists and turns in the album, and fans of rock may find themselves not disliking folk as much as they usually do. With standouts “Metaphor Life” and “Can’t Stay” keeping the folksters and rockers happy (respectively), there’s not much to knock in Michael the Blind’s effort, and much to praise.