If you are unfamiliar with the name Sherman Ewing, the digital release of his second album, Single Room Saloon, on January 11, may well remedy that. This ten-song rock, pop, and country collection runs the gamut from haunting bluesy social commentary to introspective soul searching, from upbeat swinging melodies to anarchic cacophonies. His lyrics are personal and emblematic of a generation. Ewing is a singer-song writer with something to say, and he says it with a raw honesty that will remind you of early Dylan. The world he describes is not particularly pretty. It is a place where people fall, sometimes to rise again, sometimes not. More often than not his music is as harsh as that world, and when it isn't, when it seems melodic and tuneful, the lilting melodies are in ironic contrast to the disturbing lyrics. This may be pop music, but it is pop music as art.
"The Mission" has a lilting melody, but it is a song about the need for change in a society where people are on the streets dying from the heat, where people are fighting for the right of the road. The mission and what it stands for not only don't help; they stand in the way. "Angel," the chorus demands, "Burn this mission down." "Flatlands" has a sweet folk song vibe with a pulsating rhythm, but it describes 40,000 children wasted in the sand, with the vultures ready to pounce. The sweetness of the music morphs into the sadness of a dirge. "Heaven Waits" is a melodic old style folk rocker that looks at the idea of heavenly rewards with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Its opening guitar measures belie its message. Ewing has a way of using the music to lull the listener into a false sense of serenity, only to pull the rug away from anyone paying close attention to the lyric.
"Single Room Saloon," the title song, on the other hand uses a dissonant musical setting to echo the dissonance of the singer's relationship to a world that is like a single room saloon. He's still here, but he's "slightly out of tune," more than slightly in the light of some of the sonic distortion. It also features some rocking guitar work and a blasting trumpet solo. "Happiness" and "Right Behind the Scars" both seem to look at the chances for redemption after a misspent past. "I can hear the river calling," he says in "Right Behind the Scars," "will you let it take you out to sea?" In both, the music echoes the sense. "Walk On" is a classic anthem with a passionate guitar riff. "If you're lost in the night, you will find that there's love on the other side; walk on," directs the chorus. It ends with a gospel like coda featuring a guitar solo interspersed with chants of "walk on."