Ryan Joseph Anderson‘s The Weaver’s Broom has an easygoing vibe about it that belies its craftsmanship. Anderson has a calm, quiet, yet confident voice that channels James Taylor at times; Taylor is an apt comparison for many tunes here.
Anderson does have some Southern Gothic in him (“Wandering Apparition,” “Before the War”), giving some bite to this album–but upbeat, comforting tunes like “Jericho,” “Weep Caroline,” and the title track are the main feature here. Anderson knows how to use his voice to its best end, playing it nicely off his smooth, lithe acoustic guitar. The melodies are warm and friendly, and the overall effect is one of relaxing Sunday afternoons, perhaps in a comfy rocking chair. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty great achievement in this book.
All Julianna Barwick needs on “Forever” is four female vocalists and some ambient synths to create transcendent beauty. This is one of the most gorgeous tracks I’ve heard all year.
If you love James Taylor, America, and that Nashville folk sound from the ’70s, “Shed a Little Light” by Winter Mountain is going to be on your good list. You will hum and sing.
So I just found out that students from Hocking College are behind the Robbins Crossing sessions, which is A. Completely awesome and B. Completely jealousy-making for this ex-journalism undergrad. In this version, Decker (of Belle Histoire) brings her clear, emotive vocals to bear over an acoustic guitar in a historic cabin. Sweet.
APL‘s Ancient Tunes requires an operational definition of “ancient.” If “ancient” is first century hymns, we’re not exactly there. If it’s late ’70s/ early ’80s radio, then this album is titled perfectly. Ancient Sounds sounds as if Adam Lindquist (who is APL) ate a radio set to an “oldies” station and then spit out thirteen tunes in response to the indigestion.
Not to suggest that these are repulsive or heartburn-inducing, as they’re not. But there is a direct line between the iconic sounds of Queen/The Who/Beach Boys/Elton John/Leonard Cohen and APL. These songs would have no basis if not for those forebears. But this is no pastiche. Lindquist filters the sounds through a distinctly modern tonal idiom: the angular, manic snarkiness of Say Anything-style punk. It’s present predominantly in the vocals, but it sneaks into the music a bit as well.
Add up all those pieces in your head and try to imagine it. Difficult, right? Well, it’s a bit challenging for Lindquist to synthesize into a cohesive whole, too. He jerks back and forth between styles, almost as if he were changing the dial on a radio. “Blistered Fingers” features blistering organ playing reminescent of ’70s rock; the tune butts up against “An Ancient Tune (How to Rip Off Leonard Cohen With The Best of Them),” which is a glorious acoustic musing on the meaning of “Hallelujah” before it gets bored and goes Joe Walsh pop (it’s as weird as it sounds). Then it goes on for two and half more minutes. It’s a good song, but it’s baffling. It follows zero rules, conventions or considerations. It just is.
That’s the way many of the tunes here are. They’re packed full of good ideas that come up unexpectedly; so unexpectedly, in fact, that they jarred me. I’m all for stops and starts (I knew what math rock was before I knew pop radio existed), but this is just a headscratcher. And at 48 minutes, there is more than enough time for Lindquist to unspool his singular vision (and to keep you puzzled).
There are highlights, though. “Reunion Day” makes the most of Lindquist’s love of odd chord structures and unique instrumentation (accordion/shaker/bgvs, for one section) and pours it into a modern pop idiom. Closer “Tell Me, Are You Pulling Away?” appropriates a Jackson Browne/James Taylor acoustic vibe to ground the gutwrenching vocal/lyrical finale.
The other songs, as I have noted, are a veritable who’s who of musical styles from the late seventies and early eighties, as filtered through a modern lens. Queen’s exuberant, jam-packed pop features prominently at least by comparison, and probably as inspiration.
I would love to hear more from APL. Lindquist seems like the sort who has ambitions so massive that it’s going to take a while before he can wrangle those impulses into their best form. Ancient Tunes is a good release, but it’s not the best he can do. Get in on the ground floor and take the elevator up with his subsequent releases.
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.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.