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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/25/2007)
It used to be that being a rock musician was a way of rebelling against one's upbringing. But many of those who rebelled against their parents now have grown kids, and some of them are doing the opposite and following in the parents' footsteps: and becoming musicians. There are quite a few second generation performers on the scene, such as Jakob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, and Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Carly Simon.
This week, we have the latest recording by another second generation artist, a first-rate singer-songwriter named Jake Armerding, whose CD is called Walking on the World.
Jake Armerding is the son of Taylor Armerding, a Boston area musician who is a member of bluegrass band Northern Lights, singing and playing mandolin, and is also a newspaper columnist. The younger Armerding was attracted to the music his father played, mainly bluegrass, but has been writing songs since age 14. After graduation from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2000, with an English degree, the now-28-year-old Jake Armerding made an independent recording called Caged Bird in 2001, which sold a thousand copies and got him noticed in the Boston area. That year, he went to Nashville to try his fate there, and in 2003 released an eponymous CD for the Nashville-based Compass label, which we featured on this album review series as an impressive introductory recording. Armerding decided to leave Nashville and return to his native Boston, with its rich scene populated by singer-songwriters. His new release Walking on the World was recorded partly in Nashville and partly in Boston.
In addition to being a singer-songwriter, Armerding takes after his father and plays bluegrass, and is something of a multi-instrumentalist, playing fiddle and mandolin, as well as guitar. But his new CD is purposely wide-ranging, including rock and a little blues influence, plus the folk and bluegrass ingredients. There is also some steel-guitar twang, and some of what has become a kind of recognizable Boston singer-songwriter sound. In fact, he acknowledges that his recording is not likely to fit into any style category easily. He says "I think genres are for record stores, and unfortunately, record stores are getting scarce." Walking on the World features a varied cast of supporting musicians, including Irishman John Doyle, a founder of the band Solas, steel guitar player Dan Dugmore, plus a couple friends on the Boston music scene doing backing vocals, including Aiofe O'Donovan of the band Crooked Still and Mark Erelli. And, Jake Armerding's father Taylor, also makes guest appearances on some tracks.
The result is a pleasing and yet interesting recording that is outwardly a singer-songwriter album, but has a good deal of sonic variation, from bluegrass to country to rock. Armerding has a nearly perfect voice for the music, and his songs have the right combination of poetic vagueness and detail to keep the CD interesting from a lyrical standpoint. There is something of a theme to this album's words: quite a few of the songs have traveling as a backdrop to the words, and another frequent topic is that most-explored subject of songwriters, love and relationships. Sometimes they come together and he ends up with traveling love-songs.
Leading off is one of those, the CD's title track, Walking on the World. The song features bluegrass instrumentation with a rock beat and some electric guitar. <<>>
With a more country-influenced sound is Hole in the Sky (Mandolin Man), on which the senior Armerding appears on mandolin and backing vocals. The song is a eulogy to a favorite player and influence. The last lyric line pays tribute to "Dad," as having passed on, but it's only fiction, with Armerding's father part of the band. <<>>
One of the more distinctive tracks is Flirting as in "flirting with disaster." The sound is a kind of swamp blues, not the kind of thing one expects from a bluegrass player. Despite the almost rap-style vocals, the piece is one of the album's best lyrically. <<>>
Another traveling love-song is Keep the River On Your Right. Sonically it's more in keeping with the contemporary singer-songwriter style, though there's a bit too much steel guitar for my taste. <<>>
One of the more cryptic sets of lyrics come on Assassination Blues, which seems to be an exploration of the mind of a potential killer. <<>>
A further departure comes on the track Regulation Blues, which is mostly instrumental and largely blues. At the end, Armerding raps some words complaining about the frustration of airport security measures. <<>>
The Fleece is another love song with traveling as a sub-theme. The piece revolves around a fleece jacket left behind, is performed with a small acoustic group. <<>>
The CD ends with an introspective song that sums up the traveling theme of the album, My House speaks of one's house being in various locations, sort of paraphrasing the old expression "home is where I hang my hat." <<>>
Jake Armerding's excellent new CD Walking on the World weaves the themes of travel and love together with varying stylistic combinations to make for engaging listening. The musicianship is generally tasteful throughout, and Armerding's vocals have the right combination of sincerity and relaxed confidence that many will find instantly likable.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." The mix has everything in the right proportions, and there is good clarity and attention to perspective. The dynamic range is also a bit above average for contemporary CDs.
These are days when singer-songwriter recordings abound, so there's a lot of competition for the ears of music fans, competition even among other Boston area artists, but Jake Armerding's Walking on the World has much to offer. It's another fine CD from one of the emerging bright lights on the scene.
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