It always worries me when someone gets compared to James Taylor. Whether it’s a self-comparison or an outside evaluation, it’s just discomforting to hear new artists compared to the king of nice. JT, for all his talent, specialized in nice tunes. They didn’t push the envelope, rock the boat, make waves, innovate, or blow the doors off. They just were really solid, pretty, nice songs. The reason he got away with being so static in his songwriting was that his voice is ab-so-lute-ly gorgeous. “Mexico” is not that exciting musically, but I feel like James Taylor is hugging me when he starts singing.
And unless you’ve got golden pipes, getting compared to James Taylor means bad things for your songwriting.
The Steve Pomplon Band compared themselves to JT in their neatly handwritten note accompanying their album (note to other artists: handwritten notes = WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN). After hearing 9:31 several times through, I can come to no better comparison than that. Pomplon’s voice, while not as smooth and effortless as Taylor’s, is definitely easy on the ears. The songs incorporate folk influences into the easy-going pop sound, but not enough to make this a folk album. This is a straight-up pop album, a little to the right of Coldplay’s Parachutes and a little to the left of Ben Harper. It’s a solid debut that avoids all missteps by not taking big steps of any kind.
Highlights include the bouncy “Journeys”; the easy-swaying, romantic closer “This Little Song”; and the dreamy “Pripyat.” There isn’t a bad song in the nine, but those that aren’t mentioned are all just nice. They don’t offend, but they don’t excite too strongly either.
The Steve Pomplon band has chops and songwriting skill, but it feels like they played it safe on this album. If this is their sound, they’ve got some tweaking to do before they have a recognizable signature. If this is just the jumping-off point for something bigger and better, then bring it on. I hear the talent here, but only in snatches and phrases here and there. There’s a lot of room for growth in the Steve Pomplon Band; but until then, they’ve put out some very listenable tunes in 9:31. For fans of Maroon 5, early Coldplay, Five for Fighting, Jack Johnson, early John Mayer, and the like. Oh, and James Taylor.