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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/5/2014)
On paper, the singer-songwriter genre always seems to have limited possibilities and would likely be tapped out creatively after a few years. After all, how many ways can one write songs mostly about relationships and perform them usually with an acoustic guitar? But the genre persists and somehow, through the collective efforts of the thousands of practitioners, the folkies out there, the music somehow manages not to get stale.
This week we have the latest recording by a kind of classic singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar that shows that this kind of music has a lot of life left in it. It's the latest album by Connor Garvey called Meteors and Beating Hearts.
Connor Garvey is from Portland, Maine, and has been making music since an early age. It was part of his academic pursuit -- he majored in biology and minored in music recording. He took a job outside of music before a "life coach" told him that music was what he was best suited for. So he plunged into a career as an independent artist by taking an Amtrak train across the country and playing wherever he could. He has been developing a fan base since then through four self-released albums, including Where Ocean Meets Land in 2011, which we also featured on this review series. Now he is out with a new studio album, following a recent live recording. The studio album, called Meteors and Beating Hearts, is what we are dealing with today.
Despite the fact that singer-songwiter and folkie records are supposed to be about the lyrics and what the music has to say, the quality of the musicianship and especially vocals makes a big difference in music like this. And this is where Connor Garvey excels. He's got a very appealing tenor, his music is usually invitingly melodic and the musicianship, with arrangements which go well beyond the strumming acoustic guitar stereotype, is creative and very tasteful. It's fairly similar is sound to Where Ocean Meets Land. His musical colleagues are much the same on the new album include multi-instrumentalist Pete Morse, who played mainly electric guitar, and served as co-producer with Garvey. Colin Winsor is on bass, with his use of acoustic bass adding a nice, organic touch to the music. Dan Boyden is on drums, and there are a few additional players on who appear here and there. The album strikes a right balance of interesting arrangements that supplement the songs, and never reaches the point of sounding over-produced.
Lyrically, Garvey touches on a number of subjects, but most are love songs of one sort or another. He's not the kind of folkie to comment on the issues of the day, but he does wax philosophical on some of the songs and manages to avoid many lyrical cliches.
The album opens with a piece that sums up the upbeat, appealing, and tasteful sound of the album. Bright Morning is, as its title suggests, a song of optimism. An interesting twist is the seven beat meter of the song's verses. <<>>
A piece with somewhat unexpected lyrics is called Real Old, which is ostensibly a wish to be old, but it's more complicated than that. Musically it's another inviting track. <<>>
There are a number of songs on the album about jumping in and going after what life has to offer. Bite That Tastes Good puts it metaphorically, while the arrangement gets a bit funky with an added mandolin. <<>>
On Garvey's last album, he did a song called Pencil Frame using a house in disrepair as a metaphor. The new CD contains a song called Old House which also uses the theme of a domecile. It's one of the more contemplative-sounding tracks on this generally upbeat album. <<>>
Another song about taking advantage of life is Charlie about a guy absorbed perhaps too much in his career. <<>>
Garvey's generally sunny lyrical disposition is also highlighted on a song called Insignificance which tries to put the one's small place in the grand universe into a more upbeat context. <<>>
While most of the album has a contemporary sound, one track has a somewhat nostalgic, swingy sound, which continues the lyrical theme of the previous track. Spark is another of those songs that is hard not to like. <<>>
The most electric, rockiest track on the album is called Ride It Out. Despite another set of optimistic lyrics, the musical setting does not work as well, coming close at times to some pop cliches.
Connor Garvey's new release Meteors and Beating Hearts is another fine record by an independent singer-songwriter who I think should have much wider recognition. He's got a great voice, he writes appealing, often optimistic songs and the musicianship and the arrangements on the album are first-rate. It's quite tasteful and the kind of record that, as I commented about his last album, will likely sound just as good a decade or more from now as it does today.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." The mix is great, the sonic clarity is excellent and the use of studio effects is tasteful. There is, of course, unnecessary volume compression that undermines the dynamics of the performance, but compared to most of today's pop CDs, it's a good deal better than average.
Year after year, with thousands of practitioners of the genre, the singer-songwriter format seems to be in no danger of running out of possibilities. Connor Garvey's new CD is another worthy affirmation of that.
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