(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recording review - Alone at 3AM, Midwest Mess (2012)

Refreshingly direct Americana rock

Like broken in boots or comfortably worn jeans, Alone at 3AM fits my speakers like they've always lived there. After a host of bands trying to be different, just like everyone else, it's a comfort to relax into the familiar sounds of Midwest Mess. Call it country rock or Americana, Alone at 3AM's music carries the echoes of John Hiatt, John Mellencamp, and Bob Seger.

While the playing is tight and songwriting is solid, Max Fender's raw sandpaper vocals are the centerpiece. Rough but vulnerable, Fender's matter-of-fact delivery gives the songs room to breathe. On Weekends at the Cape, he takes a John Hiatt turn over a simple open verse. As the fill guitar adds its decoration to lead in to the chorus, the song picks up. In the vein of Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight, the lyrics are just trying to capture a moment of feeling:
You're just helpin' the stars to shine
You're just givin' that moon a show, so it can rise
Oh, tonight...
This transitions to the darker, steady pace of Grown an Ocean. With a more assertive rock sound, the music is more complex to support the ambivalent mood:
Down, down is where I am
Holdin' you just ain't enough
It's good enough for friends
Sarah Davis' backing vocals are a nice touch, but should have been a more forward in the mix.

The Americana rocker Burn This Town seems to reach towards Bruce Springsteen. Stronger keys or a horn might have tipped the balance. But even missing that mark, the solid arrangement and rhythm changes give drummer Chaz Stitler room to open up.

Between the easy flowing country-tinged rock style and simple production, Midwest Mess has a timeless sound. Despite feeling so familiar, it's never trite or lazy. Alone at 3AM have avoided irony, self indulgence, and heavily layered meaning to create an album grounded in a refreshingly direct honesty.

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