CSF Music Group has released an EP of five new songs by Ryan Calhoun. Let’s take a look at the tracks before arriving at a judgment about the release.
“Coffee” is a cute, bittersweet song about a shy guy who’s mentally stalking a young woman that drops into the local coffee shop each morning. “She’s the best part of my morning/And she don’t know me yet…/She’s an addiction like a shot of caffeine/She’s the reason why/Why I drink coffee.” You can watch the video for the song on YouTube. It’s got a touch of Justin Timberlake in the rhythm. It’s the deserved single.
“Just as I approach her/She’s walking out the door/And I know that I’ll be back tomorrow.” If Starbucks ever needs a theme for a TV commercial, this should be it.
“Paper Stars” combines more Timberlake-style pop rock with a P.J. Pacifico-like sound. This title song celebrates the simple joys of poverty, as experienced by a young couple. “If you threw us a party for two/But the dinner you promised fell through/You ran out of time/We had burgers and wine on the floor/And we’d drink to a quarter to four/Till we pissed off the neighbors next door…/We will never be richer than being poor.” This one should be popular with the college crowd.
“If I Don’t” is not rock or pop, it’s modern country. This is a song that would fit perfectly on a Keith Urban or Darius Rucker album, and it’s spiced up with a trace of Tom Petty/Dwight Yoakam attitude. “She’s the only thing I ever really loved/Maybe nothing’s ever really good enough/She went left and I went right/There’s nothing left to decide.” The singer knows he needs to propose to the woman he’s bought a ring for, but he can’t find enough courage to do so. And if he doesn’t, someone else will take her down the aisle.
“Time and December” is pure Jim Croce, a variation of sorts on “Time in a Bottle.” It channels Croce both in the lyrics and in the guitar-based melody. “See, I thought I’d be something worth talking about/When I found myself coming back home/The more that I wander the more that I know/…/So let’s raise up our glasses and toast to our dreams/I hope January will listen to me/Cause this year could be heaven or it could be hell/But I guess only time and December will tell.” Very clever and satisfying.
“Stranger” might have fit well on Billy Joel’s The Stranger album. It sounds like Joel backed by a U2ish wall of sound. And the lyrics paint the portrait, as Joel often does, of a character who does not quite fit in: “Everybody knows what nobody’s talking about/By the time we open up/It’s last call and they’re closing us down…/If I go and open up would you run/Or would you just let me be?/Let me be your stranger.” Calhoun effectively borrows a line from George Harrison and incorporates it here: “If you don’t know where you’re going/Any road will take you there.”
Paper Stars is very well produced by Bill Lefler in Los Angeles. There are no complaints about the sound. The issue with Calhoun is evident if you watch several of his YouTube-posted videos. He’s a musical chameleon. Who he is varies with each song. His versatility is a strength but also a weakness that needs to be addressed. After listening to many of Calhoun’s recordings, I’m not sure who he is as an artist and performer. As an example, “Raise a Flag,” from 2012, sounds nothing like the songs on Paper Stars.
Despite this minor critique, Calhoun’s a clearly talented musician. Paper Stars is a fine release from a singer-songwriter about whom it can be said, the best is yet to come.
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