Stephen Babcock’s “Atlanta” is for anyone who listens hard to hear if there’s an organ in the background of a song. (You won’t have to scrunch your ears to find the keys in this one: it fades in at the one-minute-mark.) The organ performance, with all its screamin’ soul, is the heart of this folk/Americana tune.
There’s also charming pedal steel, punchy drums, and chipper guitar strum that try to steal my attention–and that bouncy acoustic guitar almost does it. But it’s the organ that really gets me in this one. It’s not even the most prominent element of the song (that would be the pedal steel or the drums) but it gives the song so much flavor.
Babcock’s tenor voice is also great–he’s got an off-the-cuff, easygoing approach to his vocal performance. He seems to be effortlessly gliding through his arrangement, like he’s singing as he walks past a band gettin’ after it on the street corner. (The below album art helps with this imagined scene.) The light swagger of the melody only adds to the freewheeling vibe. This track is a ray of Americana sunshine. If you’re a fan of Josh Ritter’s major key work (“Lark” comes to mind), Langhorne Slim, or old-school Dawes (“When My Time Comes” forever, y’all), you’ll connect with this one immediately.
“Atlanta” comes from Fiction, which drops April 6. Fiction was produced by Cody Rahn and Stephen Babcock at Seaside Lounge Recording Studio in Brooklyn, mixed/recorded by Mor Mezrich, and mastered by Kevin Salem (Rachel Yamagata, Yo La Tengo, Zee Avi, Peter Paul and Mary, Lenka).
You can checkout Babcock on a Sofar Sounds tour if you’re near the East Coast. (I’m sad to miss the Raleigh date–I miss you, North Carolina!)
4/7- Rockwood Music Hall, Stage Two – New York, NY – 9PM
4/12- Sofar Sounds DC – Washington DC – 8PM
4/13- Sofar Sounds Charlotte – Charlotte, NC – 8PM
4/14- Sofar Sounds Raleigh – Raleigh, NC – 8PM
4/15- Sofar Sounds Charleston – Charleston, SC – 8PM
4/20- Sofar Sounds New York – New York, NY – 8PM
Stephen Babcock‘s “Someday” is a smooth acoustic pop track that alerts you his “thing for Southern girls / wrapped in sundresses and pearls.” There’s rarely been a more confident statement of intended audience since John Mayer threw down “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Babcock has more than a little of Mayer’s early-career suave to his pop songwriting, as he easily lays down a syncopated vocal line over lightly funky guitar and screamin’ organ. But it’s not played off as nerdy cool, like a Mraz tune: this is all eyebrow-raised flirtation and suggestion. (Just listen to those lyrics for more proof.) The results are both familiar and fresh, like a suit that you wear for the first time and automatically feel right in.
“Someday” kicks off Said and Done, where Babcock continues to develop his acoustic-pop milieu. He follows the opening salvo with “Lines of a Love Song,” which is actually a looking-back tune; there’s major wistfulness in the lyrics and a strong dose of melancholy in the verses, but Babcock can’t resist a major-key chorus with a catchy vocal line. Pop songs like those form the majority of Said and Done, with subtle variety throughout: while “Tightrope” and “Kings” continue the full-band alt-pop funkiness, “Worth” punches up the drive a bit by infusing a bit of rock push into the pop tune; “Amy” has some introspective singer/songwriter touches in the guitar line and the lyrics. “Cape Cod” amps up the funky and puts it in a minor key. Without losing his core style, Babcock is able to put distinctive spins on the tracks.
But Babcock’s not just a southern-lovin’, acoustic-toting good ‘ol boy. Babcock’s multi-faceted tenor is a selling point of the record, as the subtle touches in his delivery set the songs apart from other alt-pop tunes. He can easily shift his delivery between evocative and dry, creating tension between verses and chorus–sometimes even between lines. It’s clear that he’s got strong control of what his voice can do, from soaring melodies to wry speak-singing bits. That’s a rare, stand-out skill.
The eight songs of Said and Done show Babcock as an alt-pop singer-songwriter with a strong control of his voice and craft. If you’re looking for some bright, tight, well-penned acoustic pop to slot next to Matt Nathanson, Griffin House, and (yup) John Mayer, you’ll find much to enjoy in Stephen Babcock’s work.