On his new album Come On Home Dan Rodriguez uses a mixed palette of heartland rock, pop-country (as in the title track) and ’70s-style soul-rock à la Atlanta Rhythm Section or Bob Seger (“New Kind of Love”) to create a retro vista. The bands of that era might have envied the crisp production of this set, but more enviable is Rodriguez’s stone-sharp voice, strong and flexible enough to convey all the emotions in his straightforward if sometimes trite lyrics.
Top moments like “California” with its strong chorus and rhythmic punch and the riff-driven soul of “New Kind of Love” contrast with weaker efforts like the throwaway “It’s About You” and the vague clichés of the lightweight “Rum River.” (The time when it was OK to write lines like “working my hands to the bone” and “a heart that’s filled with hopes and dreams” has been gone for decades if not centuries, if you ask me.) Too often Rodriguez relies on alcohol imagery to cheaply evoke a setting or mood, too.
But at its best, the songwriting achieves a delicate, inspired simplicity, as in the gently swinging love song “Storm” with its exquisite soft arrangement and crystalline vocals, or the Beatle-esque acoustic pop of “I’ll Be Waiting (When You Come Home),” which was used in a Budweiser ad campaign.
“Milk & Honey” with its Motown beat, soulful organ and R&B-inflected vocals and “Second Chances” with its smooth ’80s-rock moves are invigorating. “I don’t need fame and money/I don’t need milk and honey/I only need her love.” That’s simple, classic stuff – common phrases or lyrical signifiers put together in new ways and set in clear melodies. It’s one of Rodriguez’s strengths. When the songwriting and his melodic and vocal talents click, they click securely.
Sailing through the whole set is Rodriguez’s fine voice, a pleasure to listen to whatever he’s singing about and however evocatively (or not) he’s putting it. His vocals and his melodicism allow him to succeed with the wide stylistic vocabulary he filters through his own sensibility.