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.”
According to the bio on his website, Ewing is no new kid on the block. A 40 year old native of Minnesota, he went to boarding school in England. It was the time of the Punk revolution and, as Ewing told Tipitina’s John D’Aquila in an online interview, “Everyone was into the Sex Pistols.” He came back to the States to go Columbia University, where he met “Jojo” Hermann of Widespread Panic. They began to play together in a band called Sherman and the Bureaucrats, and he continued playing around New York through the nineties. In 2002, he teamed with producer Godfrey Diamond on his first solo album, Blue Moon. Among the influences on his music that he mentions in the D’Aquila interview are Neil Young, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, and Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan, he says, “started me getting into the guitar.” While his music is truly an eclectic mix, these singer-songwriters are clearly there in spirit.
Ewing collaborates again with Diamond and Hermann on this new album. Others included on the CD are Ivan Neville, drummer George Recile, and bassist Tony Garnier. Tom Marshall is on keyboards. Zak Soulam and Jimbo Walsh help out on guitar, and Michael Ray handles the trumpet work. Ewing’s core band is made up of guitarist Anthony Krizan, Rob Clores on keyboards, and a rhythm section of John and Kevin Hummel.