Sleeping Bag Studios (July 2014)
Some of my readers out there are certainly expecting this…
After spending days in the dark with our new good friend Chris Romans of The Last Surrealist, many of you out there probably put your money on the fact that I’d switch it up quickly and head back towards the light. That’s fair…I like to change up the tone of these reviews just as much as I do my very own playlist here in the studio. So today…I’m bringing you to a laid-back place of melody and some beautiful acoustic music from Gary Carey through his new album What’s Not To Like?
Wait…what? Gary – are you baiting us? With an album title like that…the independent journalism scene could jump all over this if you don’t deliver the goods!
Thankfully, for myself…after a good couple spins through the album, I found the only thing that wasn’t to like was probably just the album cover itself! Gary’s a fine looking gentleman for sure – nothing wrong there…it just looks a little on the dated-side for how relevant his music might very well be today. Is that nit-picking or what though? Certainly nothing bad to say about the music, performances or songwriting here – he’s got all that stuff down tight! Considering this is a MUSIC review – I’ll shut up about all this now…
There’s a ton of heart in this album…and while you might not assume a beard like me could take a break from it all and just sit n’ listen to a set of chilled out songs like this…well, I’ve always been a firm believer that there’s a time and place for all music. After the collage of sounds I’ve been listening to for days on end – this was a welcome break in the clouds for a smooth, well-produced sound. You won’t find anything over-complicated here at all – there’s a sense of refinement in these songs, each stripped down to acoustic bare-bones often with little or no accompaniment other some slight drums & Gary’s vocals. It’s not an attempt to cash in on the world-wide minimalist epidemic – there’s a focus here on each instrument played, making sure that they’re contributing to their beautiful-maximum each time, note for note. Songwriting-wise, Gary has a lot going for him. There will be moments that remind you of Jack Johnson, Elvis Costello, Grandaddy…and sometimes vocally reaching the very edges of Tom Petty and Paul Simon.
From the tender opening moments of the title-track, to the more expanded sounds of his album in “Everything I’m Not,” “Redemption Road,” and “That’ll Be Me,” – each of the songs come through so clearly that it’s impossible to not give this album some of your precious ear-time and just take a moment to let the world stop around you for a while. “The Way I’m Loving You Now” and the brilliantly-recorded “That Girl’s Gone,” will make for some true highlights during your world’s stoppage-of-play – it’s quite often you’ll find Gary at his absolute best when simply left to his own devices; smooth-effective & emotional vocals, beautiful guitar…and his excellent ability to write songs.
“Jamie’s Coming Home,” would make a great case for a favorite on this album for me. Again highlighting the storytelling ability of Gary, this song and the track to follow - “By The River,” also show him at some of his most human-elements. There are moments where you’ll hear Gary trade in the strength of tone for a more honest and authentic recording in the vocals; there are imperfections – and like the many of you out there embracing this musical route, there are moments where this pays off extremely well.
The final two tracks end this album on all the right notes for me. “Holidays On Mars” is undeniably catchy…and for those wondering where the Grandaddy reference came from earlier…well…have a listen to this and tell me you couldn’t hear them pulling this off. It has a familiarity to it…there’s a comfort in this track with a crazy story in the lyrics to accompany this tiny little piece of electro-pop confection. In a final contrast – Gary takes it back to the original acoustic setting for the final track “Open Heart,” which brings this album to a sweet & beautiful conclusion. Lyrically, it feels as if this song wasn’t even an option for its place on the album; as these beautiful insights from Gary play out…you get a real sense that this is what he’s been wanting to tell us throughout this entire album. In this spaciously-isolated last cut…you could hear a pin drop in the background as you absorb this final sentiment.
Crystal-clear, great songwriting and a lot of effort here, resulting in a sweet album that couldn’t possibly offend a single soul…take a break from your metal & punk diets and enjoy this album as the sun-sets out there this summer.
Jer @ SBS
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