Album Review: Drawing from Memory by Scot Sax

There’s a reason Scot Sax is releasing his latest album on vinyl (and CD), and it’s not just that the medium is hip and cool these days. As a recording artist, Sax has been releasing a steady stream of tunes ranging from glam to funk to country and everything in between in one digital format or another for years. This time around, though, the songs have a warm vibe that demands the hum and crackle only vinyl can deliver.

The album is called Drawing from Memory, and it’s the kind of record you might stumble upon in your favorite record shop and think, “Huh… I thought I had all the great records from the 70s. How did I miss this one?” The vibe throughout is definitely retro in a completely unpretentious way. Maybe the best way to describe the album is as a love-letter to the music of the artist’s formative years.

Early on, the album has the feel of a Burt Bacharach record—or maybe, to more contemporary ears, it offers a not to some of Swedish popster Jens Lekman’s best tracks: a big, rich snare drum, lush strings, and a toy piano give way to sentimental lyrics in the album’s opener, “Where Do You Go to Cry?” From here, the album gradually morphs into something more along the lines of Carole King with “I Never Loved You,” a song whose lyrics recall “More Today Than Yesterday” by the Spiral Staircase but whose sound (figuratively speaking) is straight out of A&M’s Studio B, where Carole King recorded her legendary Tapestry album. Seriously, listen to the shaker-snare-piano-acoustic guitar combination on this track, and try to tell yourself it’s not 1972.

Other tracks on the album have something of a Beatles-post-breakup-solo-project feel to them. A slightly distorted slide guitar coupled with a lyrical sense of existential angst make a track called “Am I Still Living?” sound like it could be a lost Phil Spector-produced demo from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass era, while a country-and-western drumbeat coupled with a funky synthesizer on “Song in A Minor” recall the homespun spirit of early Paul McCartney solo projects like McCartney and Ram.

Perhaps the most overt homage Sax offers on Drawing from Memory is “See All with No Sight,” whose Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac influence is undeniable. Here, a driving Mick Fleetwood floor-tom beat along with a twangy Lindsey Buckingham resonator guitar build up to a rocking chorus with a harmony line that you might, for a brief, shimmering moment, mistake for Stevie Nicks if you squint your ears just right.

Bottom line, if you love the adult-contemporary music that was beginning to seriously take root in the 1970s, you’ll love Drawing from Memory. Every track on the album recalls an era when people went out and bought LPs, brought them home, put them on the turntable, and just listened. At least in terms of music, it’s the best kind of memory to draw from.

Review: Thompson Crowley – In Tongues EP

When I loaded Thompson Crowley’s In Tongues EP into iTunes, I got a message that said “Unknown Genre.”

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Fair enough, I suppose, as Crowley’s music defies easy categorization the same way most great recordings do. One of the big touchstones I’m hearing is The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, itself an album that’s difficult to fit into an obvious genre, but I’m also hearing hints of Bowie — particularly in some of the vocals — a pinch of Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant’s Eastern influences, and something approaching Harry Nilsson and Jens Lekman. I even picked up some Smiley-Smile era Beach Boys in a couple of places. Yet even as the EP drifts almost dreamily between rock, pop, folk, and world music, it hangs together beautifully as a coherent whole — clearly a labor of love recorded less as an exercise in pleasing the masses than as a heartfelt and skillful artistic statement.