A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Artist: Andy May
Label: Swift River Music
File Under: mainstream, Americana, blues, bluegrass, roots, country, rock
We get all kinds of things in our mailbox, and we strive to pen meaningful words about every album that crosses cochlea, regardless of genre.
this is the new folk blues
Andy May is a singer/songwriter, currently living in Music City, Nashville, TN. By the age of 20, he had performed at Carnegie Hall and won the Grand Championship of the Fidder’s Convention World Championship, in Union Grove, NC. What you are hearing on Retroflections is a lifetime in music.
Andy May’s most recent offering is steeped in various American traditions – electric blues, bluegrass, country, with the charms and shortcomings inherent in each. This jambalaya of genre gets lumped under the term Americana these days, which is kind of annoying, as each style has it’s own fans and merits to be judged by, but it is useful in that more people are listening to Americana recently, and Retroflections stands to find a wider audience than when it was stuck in coffeeshops and songwriting circle ghettoes. The danger of this labelling is that it makes Andy May out to be a standard bluesman troubadour (there is definitely some of that going on), but there is a strong flavoring of progressive ’70s sunny cosmic rock, think the Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and Jimmy Buffett especially, that suggests a more complicated ear and technical ambition.
Retroflections sounds like an outdoor stage at a Roots music festival at 3 in the afternoon, surrounded by low purple mountains. This is music for BBQing, for lazy hammock swinging, for driving with yr arm half out the window, catching a farmer’s tan. After 40 years of making music, Andy May is looking back on his lifetime, enjoying the simple pleasures, enjoying his life. He seems like a gentle, peaceful, positive person, that is trying to do good and spread light with his songs. It reminds me of Warren Zevon’s last record, The Wind; a lifelong musician taking stock of said life. It is funny and sad and uplifting.
About half of the record is way too upbeat for these ears, perfect for Sunday song-circles, but i prefer my folk/roots/rock sweet and sad, or weird and psychedelic. The half that are more reflective are more in tune with the soft Autumn breeze sashaying through the windows. ‘Steam Train’, ‘Gentle Breeze’, ‘Hello’, ‘Lake Champlain’, and ‘5 a.m.’ have made their way into my personal playlist, particularly ‘Steam Train’, that sounds like the train Jimi is waiting for on ‘Hear My Train A’ Comin’ if that train were levitating and playing ‘Dark Star’, and 5 a.m., with its Jorma Kaukonen country blues/ragtime picking.
Speaking of picking, this album is definitely for the pickers. Every song has some badass fretwork, whether melodic, harmonic solos that would make Walter Becker proud (‘Gentle Breeze’), crying or screaming fire. These tasty steel strings are adorned with tasteful flourishes of mandolin, harmonica, pedal steel and backing choir. This music’s got a lot going for it; it’s ambitious, personal and emotive, with clean, polished professional performances from all the players. It’s well made.
Retroflections is the kind of album you’d buy from a guitar shop or cafe. The album art looks homemade and the production rings with digital reverb, as uncanny as a crystal cave. Andy May’s a talented songwriter, and with more people seeking out this style, with the popularity of acts like Neko Case and Gillian Welch, not to mention all the indie folksters. But since i just did, i would advise Mr. May to hear some of the newer generation of roots rockers, maybe Iron & Wine, Blitzen Trapper, perhaps Fleet Foxes, and try and understand what people are listening to these days, to figure out how best to present his material. For this reviewer, i’d like more grit in the recording, some tape scuzz or tube hum, some sense of presence that would negate some of the vacuity of the digital recording. Lyrically, i would like to see Andy May pick up a volume of Haiku or Romantic poetry, and experiment with more ambiguous and lyrical ways of expressing what’s written on his soul. The man clearly has a dear love of music, and a big heart. Andy May, keep striving, refining, and listening! Everyone else, give this man a recording budget!!!
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