Leonard Mynx’s last album Vesper was a stately wonder, composed of hopelessly depressing folk songs that hung on every note he let fall from his mouth. It was an absolutely riveting album, if an unsettling one. Son of the Famous So and So finds him in a more upbeat idiom, and while it’s less discomforting, it’s less attention-grabbing as well.
Like Dylan went, so goes Mynx; there’s a lot more instrumentation here, and if it can’t exactly be called rock, it’s something close. There’s intimations of everyone from Tom Waits to Bob Seger here (On “Sing Radio,” Mynx calls up both), making for a mini-tour of American roots rock. Son has its own charms and joys, but it inches a little closer toward what the rest of the folk world is doing right now.
Mynx has shifted his focus from vocal melodies to overall songwriting. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you hear how different “Stolen” and “Last Time” sound. The forlorn horns of “Stolen” accent the vocal performance; the horns of “Last Time” are part of the structure (along with bass/acoustic guitar/electric guitar/drums/piano/organ) that rope in Mynx’s vocals.
Even the gorgeous, relatively stark “My Old Friend” fits Mynx’s vocals into a song, a departure from his former idea of letting the vocals dominate the proceedings. The result is a collection of tunes that mid-to-late-era Dylan fans will love, both for vocal and instrumental reasons.
“Stolen” and “Sail On” best reference his last album with haunting moods created by letting his voice and lyrics paint the whole scene. The lyrical structure on Son is modified to fit the new songwriting style, meaning that he’s less a literal storyteller than a scene painter on much of the album. “Sail On” dispels that, returning to his wordy, lengthy lyrical style that I love. He sticks a beautiful acoustic coda there, too; major props to that.
“Miss You” best matches his morose mastery of drawn-out, creaky vocal performances with his new songwriting idiom. It is easily the best song on the album, hinting that the best is yet to come from Leonard Mynx.
Son of the Famous So and So never drops below “solid.” “Stolen,” “Sail On” and “Miss You” are next-level pieces that stand up next to tracks by Iron and Wine, Bon Iver and Damien Jurado; the rest are average-to-good pieces that show a (hopefully) transitional stage in Mynx’s songwriting. Leonard Mynx is an artist you need to watch closely; he’s right on the verge of breaking through.
I came from a punk background, but over the past three years I’ve spent a lot more time listening to singer/songwriters than I have punk. The more I listen, the more I’m interested in the barest of the bare: chords, melody and words. This, to me, is the essence of songwriting; with no distortion, no band, and no gimmicks to fall on, the songwriter’s qualities and demerits are all that is left. And it’s artists that are okay with displaying what they got that excite me.
Leonard Mynx fits perfectly into that desire. If singer/songwriters are placed on a continuum where Damien Jurado is the quietest of the quiet and old-school Dashboard Confessional is the loudest of the loud (I swear, even his quietest stuff ends in hollering – and it’s great because of it), Leonard Mynx would fall toward the Damien Jurado side, right up against Ray LaMontagne and near Jose Gonzalez. That is, there’s not much clutter in these songs; they’re pretty bare.
It is their stripped-down qualities that make Vesper such an incredibly tight piece of work. There is not a wasted second on the album. Mynx knows that his strengths lie in letting his low tenor voice meander over subtle, sparse guitar accompaniment. And he does plenty of it. But he also knows when to introduce other instruments; forlorn trumpets (a la Bon Iver) appear with enough frequency to merit notice, and a female singer accompanies Mynx in some of his best moments.
The fact that Mynx knows his strengths and exploits them is what makes this album like a warm winter coat on a cold day. Sometimes I wish that artists would do more of what they’re good at as opposed to “experimenting.” Mynx doesn’t fall prey to this at all. “Robert” is over nine minutes long (atypical for a folk song), and it sounds great. There just isn’t anything wrong with it.
Mynx plays with other atmospherics within the context of his songwriting; “Many Hours” has a full band, while “The Reins” has a distinctly Bon Iver-ish atmospheric build-up. Several tracks nod to folk tradition and have harmonica back-up. But it’s all done in a very forlorn way; none of the tracks here get caught up in their own pomp and circumstance. These songs are incredibly straightforward, down-to-earth, and enjoyable.
Mynx’s voice and lyrics add a whole other dimension to the songwriting. The lyrics are good, but his delivery makes them into what they are. Even when Mynx is delivering lines that would otherwise be cliches due to their amount of use (of which there are a handful), the way he delivers them and the context in which he delivers them make them seem like Mynx just really, really means those words. It fully doesn’t matter that other people have had those thoughts; Mynx had them too, and they were just as legit when he felt them as when those who went before him felt them.
This album is wonderful. The honest, sad, realistic clarity of the songs makes me want to put the entire album on repeat and have it running in the background of my life. I feel like people would understand me better if they heard this album. Seeing as someone else wrote this album, that’s a pretty weighty endorsement. If you like acoustic folk (Bon Iver, Jose Gonzalez, Iron and Wine, Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Josh Radin, Damien Rice, Damien Jurado, et al.) there is no reason you won’t adore this album. I adore Vesper.