Low fidelity swagger. That's what Laughing Man's debut album, The Lovings ('63-'69), exudes. It's a short album that spans only seven tracks, but it is dense with artistic potential. The first thing you will notice when listening to this album is the unique sound of the production. The vocals of singer Brandon Moses are quivering and distorted, hiding just below the surface in a way that convinces your ears they are listening to antique vinyl. The guitar and drums manage to be both tastefully understated and sonically raunchy. The song structures are simple but based around the sophisticated voices of jazz chords and a wide range of tonality.
I feel tempted to write about this album in a way that suggests that its very genius is founded on a perfectly balanced merge between classic blues and soul and the leading edge of rock music; that the juxtaposition between post-modern soundscapes (such as the lovely minimalist droning on "Swirl") and dripping-with-attitude blues manages to adeptly cross musical boundaries in style as well as in the audience that appreciates and supports it. I'd like to go on and on about those things - about how a whole history of music that has thrived in D.C. is somehow apparent in seven short songs. I'd really like to point out that the last track on the album, "Mood and Dress," manages to consolidate all of those points the strongest. This is possibly the most self-aware track on the album with Moses's emotion filled vocals ringing in the fuzzy background as bubbly supporting voices are brought to the very front of the song in perfect clarity.
However, I feel pretty sure that the band would cringe at reading that sort of review. Getting back to my original thesis, I'm reasonably confident that Laughing Man really just took all the music that they grew up loving and stirred it up into a really great debut. It's lo-fi without pretention and an homage to the early days of soul without sounding geriatric (despite what the album's aging title may imply...)
While listening to AStranger at the Wheel, the first album released by Portland singer/songwriter Christopher Reyne, the composer's drive is apparent. The ten song album has an emotional, musical and stylistic range that is ambitious and satisfying. Kicking the album off with “The Notorious Kelly Monroe”, a catchy pop-esk hook and complex musical textures pair with Reyne's melodic voice to make it clear that this performer is dedicated to entertaining his listeners. Dedicated may be the perfect word to describe Reynes. The entire project has been in his hands, from the writing and performing to the recording and mixing. Literally every vocal track and instrument on the album you here is Reynes himself, save the drums that were added by a friend after all the songs were finished. As the album unfolds, the lyrics remain story-driven and vulnerable, the arrangements are thoughtful and interesting, and it is clear that Stranger at the Wheel captures what Christopher Reynes is: a driven entertainer and talented musician. - Joy Pearson