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The Graham Album Review #2006

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Young Mister: Sudden Swoon
by George Graham

(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/20/2019)

I think it’s a combination of the technology of the ease of laptop recording and home studios that have given us a bunch of one-person bands over the past few years. One can be a full group by oneself in the comfort of your home or bedroom for that matter, and so quite a few people are going in that direction and calling themselves by a band name. And like most things in contemporary music, they range from awful to brilliant. This week we have a nice example of an appealing one-person band, Young Mister, who is Stephen Fiore from Tryon, North Carolina.

Fiore is a prolific songwriter in his 30s, who according to his bio, spent eight years as a staff writer at Universal Music. He co-wrote a song with Art Garfunkel and occasionally performs as part of Jeff Goldblum’s jazz orchestra. He writes that after that stint in the music biz, he decided to become semi-retired at age 32 in rural North Carolina, where he works in a loft-performance space called Reunion Tour, which doubles as a studio and skate shop. In his words, “I spent a lot of time at home writing and recording songs… sending them out into the world with no expectations whatever.”

His new album, his second full-length Young Mister recording, is called Sudden Swoon. Fiore draws on his experience in writing pop songs to create very-well-crafted appealing, melodic music that lyrically doesn’t venture much beyond relationships, with most songs pondering their various stages, but overall which come across as intelligent and engaging – tunes you can find yourself humming.

While Sudden Swoon is primarily the handiwork of Fiore, as is the case for a number of one-person bands, there are some guest players on the album, including drummer Graham Spillman, bassist Lucas Rinz, occasional guitars from Matt Lohan and keyboards from Michael Flynn. The prominence of acoustic guitars gives the album a folky ambiance, while at others it can have a kind of retro sound.

Opening is a song called Burned Up Wagon which exemplifies the album’s acoustic pop texture. It’s a love song that takes somewhat distinctive approach to the subject. <<>>

With more of a retro rock sound is What If I? which ponders the idea that one can’t get along without one’s lover. <<>>

Damage is another song considering the ramifications of a relationship, in an upbeat but vaguely melancholy setting. <<>>

One of the highlights of the album is The Day Our World Was Born a folk-infused tale of love at first sight and how the relationship developed. <<>>

Another Life is one of the more distinctive songs which seems to be about imagining a cross-species relationship. <<>>

Another of my favorites on the album is Better a mostly acoustic all-out love song in the classic folk singer-songwriter style. <<>>

Also with a definite retro sound evoking pop songs from decades past, is the track which follows Better called Best. It’s nicely done with effusive love-song lyrics. <<>>

While most of the songs are about various shades of being in love, there is one about a breakup and the consequences, Keep My Mind Off You. Still the arrangement has a distinctly positive sound. <<>>

The album ends with Have A Great Summer, done as a piano ballad, about being in school with the expectation that the summer vacation will cause separation of the lovers. <<>>

Young Mister, the nom de musique of North Carolina-based Steven Fiore is nice example of a one-person group done right. Fiore is obviously an experienced songwriter, and it shows the by the inherently appealing nature of most of his compositions. While he doesn’t take up weighty topics in his lyrics, he sometimes gives an interesting spin to the timeless subject of relationships that have been the fount of inspiration for songwriters for hundreds of years. He performs with some musical guests on the album, but it’s primarily a Fiore toiling away in his home studio.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The recording doesn’t have some of the sonic sheen that might be the case in a big-budget studio, but the mix is well-done – Fiore sent the project out to Charlie Stavish in Joshua Tree, California, for the mix, and the overall sound is commendably clean. The dynamic range, as is so often the case, was undermined by volume compression to make the recording artificially loud.

There is a long history of musicians working more or less by themselves in the studio, going back to Les Paul. The ubiquity and economy of home studios has made one-person bands legion. Steven Fiore and his Young Mister project is a very good example of how to do it right.

(c) Copyright 2019 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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