ust because I might say that the least positive thing about Nathan Maxwell’s debut EP is Nathan himself and his four attempts at attitudinal Americana singer-songwriterisms, that doesn’t necessarily mean I hold this CD at arms length while pinching my nose thusly. True, I generally don’t spend much time in that region of the musical landscape where rootsy earthiness crosses into rock dynamics and posturing. It’s a neighborhood that too greatly prizes the adoption of a certain level of “maturity,” either in its need to speak meager truths in some forced common language or an equally unconvincing disavowal of pretension, which itself smacks of a kind of pretension—a boring one.
But Nathan Maxwell doesn’t irk me the way someone like the critically-acclaimed Jim White does. Granted Undone is mercifully brief, and with Nathan’s odd approach to melodies—basically ignoring them in favor of an unconvincing streetwise drawl—isn’t striking enough to place much of a demand on the ear anyway. Maybe it’s just the dependably solid playing from this bunch of Nashville cats rounded up by ex-Dylan and Johnny Cash producer Bob Johnston that eases the pain.
I’m reluctant to give too much credit to this recent NYC transplant himself, however. A song like “Here I Go” is a rollicking three-chorder whose highlights have nothing to do with the guy whose name is above the title. Sure he wrote the song, but you can’t copywrite a chord change, just words and melodies and Maxwell’s tunes are tossed-off stilted blues lines stretched awkwardly to fit the lumpy, asymmetric and rhymeless lyrics. Stuff like “Broke down once or twice / Three times on that road / I met a cuckold and a woman / She left a load on my back / And now my head is slow” is thin gruel to subsist on while waiting for the next slide guitar solo.
“What It Means (To Be In Love With You)” has the added injury of featuring the type of cheek busting tenor sax solo that always reminds me unpleasantly of the Saturday Night Live band’s big, dumb finale after ninety minutes of comedy hell. One more gripe: on “Brooklyn Bound” Maxwell seems to be taking a swipe at the many boho bands he must contend with in his new life after leaving his native Washington D.C. in 2000. “There is a lot of walking for me / To be in a scene of retro shoes / I cannot stand the sucking sound of a vacuum” and other such toothless and uncertain jibes erode goodwill a little further.
Like I said though, the playing is solid and those twangy Telecasters are always a delight to hear in the hands of a competent player. Make sure you thank the band Mr. Maxwell, they’re carrying you.
Reviewed by: Chuck Zak
Reviewed on: 2005-05-27