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(Mishara 0043 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/7/2011)
With so many singer-songwriters on the scene these day, it's not easy to stand out. One can attempt to be quite different in sound, or just be really good at a fairly familiar style. This week we have a new recording by an artist who is more or less in the latter category. He takes a fair number of well-tested stylistic ingredients, putting them together in a creative way, but he's also quite good with those basic elements of the style. He is Connor Garvey, and his new recording, his fourth, is called Where Ocean Meets Land.
Like many such performers, Connor Harvey has a rather interesting story. He's from the state of Maine, and was into music from a young age, being involved with a band while in high school which made an independent CD. He attended college in Portland, Oregon, majoring in biology with a minor in music recording. While in college he made a solo CD at off-hours in the recording studio there. After college, he moved from one Portland to another, back across the country to Portland, Maine, where he got a non-musical job. Its benefits included access to a so-called "life coach," who actually recommended that Garvey pursue music instead. So after a fair amount of soul-searching, he quit his job and went on a cross-country trip via Amtrak, then sought bookings at venues in towns at the various stops, and contacted headline performers to see if they would take him on as an opening act. Through his persistence, he began to develop a touring circuit. In 2009, Garvey released Constancy of Stars, which he considered his first actual professional album, using musicians on the Portland, Maine music scene.
Now he is out with Where Ocean Meets Land using many of the same supporting musicians -- some of whom tour with Garvey. The CD is a nice collection of some of the best elements of what the singer-songwriter scene has to offer. The material is more upbeat and musically sophisticated than the stereotypical folkie. His lyrics are intelligent and occasionally witty, taking up a rather wide range of topic. And he's got a great voice, an instantly appealing airy tenor. Garvey's publicity bio says that he listens to a fair amount of hip-hop. While that's definitely not apparent in his vocals, there is a degree of funkiness to his music, often providing a contrast to the otherwise folk-oriented context.
Most of the CD is acoustic and features a generally small group, though there are two tracks with just Garvey and his guitar. The playing is tasteful and includes instruments like some mandolin and a banjo on one track, but there are also some electric moments on the CD.
It opens with a song called Backroads, which rather epitomizes the sound of the album with its upbeat groove and acoustic instrumentation. The lyrics are classic singer-songwriter, considering traveling as an analogy for life. It's quite appealing. <<>>
In a similar direction lyrically is Move On, one of the tracks performed solo. <<>>
More contemplative in sound is The Reflection, with more bittersweet lyrics. <<>>
One of the more interesting sets of words comes on the song Pencil Frame about an unfinished house that remained that way through generations. <<>>
The rockiest song on this generally folky album is Red Winged Blackbird. It's a love song whose electric instrumentation is still in keeping with the tasteful sound of the rest of the album. <<>>
Connor Garvey does a kind of story song called The Bird, about a circus trapeze artist's farewell performance. <<>>
Garvey make a couple of references in his songs to the current hard economic times. Hold Your Breath is a nice song of stoicism. <<>>
In the same vein is another song of encouraging lyrics Monster, which moves from the imagined monsters under the bed of a child, to difficult circumstances in adult life and relationships. <<>>
Connor Garvey's new release Where Ocean Meets Land is one of those recordings of familiar musical ingredients put together particularly well. He may be one of several thousand singer-songwriters on the scene, but his combination of astute writing, appealing vocals and tasteful musical support make for thoroughly pleasing listening. But it's also one of those recordings likely to have real staying power -- probably sounding as good ten or fifteen years from now as it does today, not something you can say with much confidence about trendy pop.
Our grade for audio quality is a B-plus. The vocals and instrumentation are well-recorded and have decent clarity, but as is so depressingly typical, the sound is excessively compressed for this kind of music. Pumping up the volume kills the dynamics of the acoustic instrumentation, though some tracks are better than others.
These days, one does not have to look far to find a wealth of good singer-songwriters on the scene. Each, in his or her own way, contributes to the artform. And to that, Connor Garvey has added a most worthwhile new CD.
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