This week’s crop of indie releases proves that the slightly amateurish can be more satisfying than the slickly professional(ish) – it’s all about inspiration and having something original to say. – JS
INDIE ROUND-UP for April 7 2005
CD: Tim Young, Red
If you pine for the time when people could simply write songs and sing them, not caring whether someone called them rock, pop, folk, blues, country, or psychedelic – if you miss, I suppose, the late 60s and early 70s – you’ll particularly appreciate this batch of heartfelt songs from New York City troubador Tim Young. Young’s unschooled, urgent vocal delivery and lo-fi aesthetic combined with his solid and energetic guitar playing and fertile creativity places his music at the intersection between urban folk, heartland rock and outsider music.
I mention outsider music because Young’s vocals sometimes get so enthusiastic they become what one might call unmusical. But even with his flaws Tim Young is impossible not to like. Many of the songs are well-crafted; all illustrate the human condition in its complicated glory and shame. The title track, for example, uses nearly surrealistic lyrics to say something that seems both unclear and deeply important:
One time I wanted red hair
I wanted it black I wanted it red
I’m alive I’m not dead
Go on get lost see if I care…
I live in the clouds under the cemetery
So dark in here I can hardly see
“Disaster” sums up this dark take on life in more straightforward fashion: “I’ve done drugs I’ve gone straight/nothin’ ever eased the wait.” But in contrast, another track I really like is the love song “Reason.”
In his wide thematic variety, Young doesn’t always hit the mark; “Torture” sort of is. (Well, it’s not a pleasant listen anyway.) But the unlikeable moments on this long, sixteen-song collection are few. If you like this music at all, you won’t mind listening to a long CD of it. If you need a sonic reference point, think Eric Burdon or Them, but with a softer, more lyrical side and a touch of country. Really, Tim Young mixes genres until there is no genre, just songs. And while there may not be anything on this disc as catchy as “Gloria” or “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” there’s a full hour of meaningful music.
CD: Jack Rooney, What Goes Around
Jack Rooney is another inspired amateur, and I mean that in the positive sense of the noun. “We all contribute our own uniqueness to this world,” he says in his liner notes, “and in that sense, we are all artists.” It’s a good point and a very nice take on humanity. Like Brian Eno circa “Another Green World,” Rooney makes mood pieces, some with vocals, some spacey, others in a light symphonic rock style. The vocals, which carry mostly positive, inspirational messages, are mixed low and sung largely without inflection. This is effective for the style, but at times Rooney’s lack of vocal technique is a drawback, as in the title song, an inspiring track with a hummable melody that’s just a little spoiled by poor intonation.
The primary instrument is the grand piano, which Rooney plays deftly. Then he layers on synthesized tracks, including percussion, which lean some of the music towards modern electronica. The CD would benefit greatly from professional production and mastering, but even in this raw state it’s warm and affecting. Without ever being unmusical, Rooney’s music reminds one of a state or time of innocence, when we weren’t all so jaded and perfectionist about how things “should” sound.
Jack Rooney’s previous CD is available at CD Baby.
EP: Courtney C. Patty, Silhouette of Me
It all goes to show that packaging and production aren’t everything. Singer-songwriter Courtney C. Patty has been on the Pacific Northwest music scene for some time now and released three previous CDs. Her new EP sounds lovely, her performances on guitar and piano and her accompanying musicians are first-rate, and her promotional package and artwork are professional-looking. But on the evidence of this recording, she has yet to find a distinctive voice as a writer and singer.
Strange to say, but even now, halfway through the new decade, female singer-songwriters are copying (consciously or not) Natalie Merchant‘s vocal mannerisms, as is evident right away in this EP’s opening track, “London Bridge.” It’s the best song of the four, but its tale of a relationship’s denouement seems tired, and it just grates on me when people sing “between you and I.” The song has a pleasing acoustic-rock groove and a good chorus, but its promise isn’t fulfilled in the rest of the set. In the underwritten “April Shower” Patty combines a Tori Amos breathiness with that little-girl delivery that too many singer-songwriters use as a shortcut to indicate vulnerability.
The two closing ballads are pretty enough, and tell heartfelt stories, but the music is just too bland to hit home. One wishes Patty’d let loose vocally a bit on these tracks, instead of keeping her voice so close to her chest. The whole EP is a bit like that: writing that’s not quite inspired enough to shine through the tightly controlled performances.