hough he has finally settled on using his own name to record under, David Pajo is still subtly shifting and honing his sound. On 1968, his second “Pajo” release (after years of rotating between Papa/Aerial M monikers and variations thereof), he has incorporated a bit of traditional American gee-tar rock into the mix, and it suits him quite nicely, thanks. While 1968 doesn’t carry the spooky weight and emotional dramatics of last year’s self-titled release, it has a down-home charm all its own.
As suggested by the year in the title, 1968 bears a bit in common with some famous albums that came out that year. There’s the filtered and fucked-up blues of Beggars Banquet, the basement recording feel of the Band’s Music From Big Pink and Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, and just a touch of Hendrix feelin’ his own blues on Electric Ladyland. That is, Pajo has interpreted traditional American sounds and songcraft the same way those artist’s so successfully did—not as a straight homage or imitation, but as a frame on which to hang his own individual styles and techniques.
Performed, engineered, and mixed entirely by Pajo, 1968 is layered and nuanced—and also a comfortable one. The album starts with “Who’s That Knocking,” including all the traditional blues trappings that we know and love—the Devil, Dave’s Mama, dead bodies—over some layered acoustic strumming, organ, and Pajo’s airy croon. From there he hits Stonesy guitar stompers (“We Get Along, Mostly”), haunted Neil Youngisms (“Prescription Blues”), an instrumental lullaby (“Insomnia Song”), and a soulful pop chestnut for good measure (a rather sugary and straightforward cover of “Let It Be Me”). And while it all goes down as easy as a cool lemonade on a hot day, there really isn’t much to it, especially given the complex songwriting and affecting claustrophobia of his previous album. There’s nothing here that does your head in like “Manson Twins” or is as effortlessly beautiful as “High Lonesome Moan.” And, after seeing the talents of Pajo in full force, it comes as a disappointment.
There’s still much to enjoy here, and at times the formula really works, as on the string-laden “Cyclone Eye” and the hushed closer, “I’ve Just Restored My Will to Live Again.” But in between it’s all a bit too predictable and lightweight. A nice album for sundown on the front porch—but nothing that’ll give you nightmares.