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The Graham Album Review #2080

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Bryan Away: Canyons to Sawdust
by George Graham

(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/4/2021)

The progressive rock genre is usually thought of as dominated by very electric bands playing their sophisticated, often virtuosic music, usually at a rather high energy level. But arty rock and pop can take other forms, with more acoustic arrangements, and sometimes in something of a singer-songwriter context. And that’s what we have this week with a new recording by Brian Away, called Canyons to Sawdust.

Brian Away is the musical alias of Chicagoan Elliot Korte, who grew up in a musical family with his mother a professional singer who performed with Ruben Blades, his father a classical guitarist who at one time worked as a member of Paul Simon’s band, and his grandfather Karl Korte a classical composer. Young Elliot naturally took up music at an early age and by the time he was 12, was working with recording software at home. Still, he was reluctant to share his music with anyone, with many of his acquaintances not knowing he was a musician. He recorded an album called Educated Youth but was said to be hesitant to share it.

It was during a gap year he took between high school and college that he concentrated more on his music. He also tried a stint at acting, appearing in the TV series Damages as the son of the character played by Ted Danson. In 2019, he released an album Give In, though it languished for lack of promotion and Korte became disappointed with that. Spending time at Chicago’s famous Old Town School of Folk Music, he began to get a broader perspective, and started working on the songs that would become the new album Canyons to Sawdust. He collaborated with percussionist James McCallister, who served as co-producer. The music on the new album is a kind of epitome of art-pop, with musically sophisticated compositions with distinctive arrangements, some featuring a quintet of strings that can give it a chamber music quality at times. In fact, there are a few short instrumental interludes with the orchestral arrangements spotlighted. Otherwise, Korte’s songs are introspective, considering life’s questions, and one’s own shortcomings, as well as imagining new ones like a the husband of a long-married couple admitting to infidelity.

The album opens with one of the instrumental interludes called Well Alright Then, which at first sounds like the orchestra tuning up. <<>> That leads into another short instrumental piece called Within Reach for the strings and piano. <<>>

Korte says that first first song to be written for the album is The Lake. It’s a great example of the art-pop direction of the album with its six-beat 6-beat rhythm and string arrangement. <<>>

Another quite interesting piece is Scenes from Marriage which considers a marital union from the standpoint of a less-then-perfect husband, in a musical arrangement dominated by acoustic guitar. <<>>

Nandi Rose Plunkett from the band Half Waif makes a guest appearance on the track Dreams and Circumstance, whose kind of looping riff can evoke the minimalist music of Philip Glass.

As a contrast to that is My Cave that considers trying to keep out the world, while the musical setting is both ruminating and atmospheric. <<>>

The string section is again featured prominently on a song called A Story Arc, another set of lyrics of introspection. <<>>

The closest thing to a conventional rock song is Scenes from a Wedding as opposed to the track Scenes from a Marriage. But like the rest of the album, it has its complications. <<>>

The album ends with a piece called Special another song of consideration of one faults. Naturally the music takes interesting turns. <<>>

Canyons to Sawdust the new album by Bryan Away, the nom de musique of Elliot Korte, is a creative and appealing album of art-pop, featuring sophisticated compositions with interesting orchestral arrangements providing the setting for songs of introspection and occasional self-doubt, along with a couple of roundabout love songs. Korte’s likable, whispery vocals are a good match for the material, and overall, the album is quite effective in conveying Korte’s artistic vision.

Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The mix is fairly clean and captures the strings well. It nicely conveys an intimate sound, even with the string section present. But there are some extraneous sounds that are left in, and the dynamic range is mediocre at best.

Art pop has been around in been around in various forms since the Beatles and the latter Beach Boys. Bryan Away keeps the tradition going with an inviting, engaging album.

(c) Copyright 2021 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated August 08, 2021