Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Christian Letts

Christian Letts
New Release: Hold Fast
Release Date: Today (2/17/15)
Record Label: Vagrant Records
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Sounds Like: Brian Fallon (NMT, NMT, NMT, NMT, NMT); Dolorean (NMT); The Barr Brothers (NMT)

Any regular reader of this space will know I'm a fan of large, co-ed groups with a multitude of instruments and a range of styles. But for whatever reason, probably their in-your-face hippie vibe or long spells of psychadelic meandering – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes have just never really done it for me. But I'm willing to explore material from the group's individual members, as is the case with guitarist Christian Letts' solo debut, Hold Fast.

Although much of the ten-track release could be summed up as a less homespun version of Johnny Cash and a less gritty Brian Fallon, Letts appropriates some of his main gig's penchant for scope and grandeur in a few standout numbers that makes the effort more than a guy, his songs and a guitar. He achieves what is a rare feat, in my book: a singer-songwriter, folk record that doesn't tire too quickly in repetition.

Come for: "Charles de Gaulle" – what a singer-songwriter folk number should sound like; the accompanying instrumentation is light and brisk, a breezy contrast to Letts' nearly-spoken word lyrics and bass register; an uncomplicated love song
Stay for: "The Oath" – few better ways to start a song then "here it comes, a gut-boy's oath, I'll always make a toast to life;" strong chorus harmonies and horns atop a steady folk rhythm are the makings of a great tune
You'll be surprised by: "Emeralds" (hints of The National in its darkness but with heartland rock sensibility, which is nearly jubilant at its closing climax; at times, Letts' vocal phrasing can channel Jim Morrison)
Solid efforts: "The Keeper" – I'd have no trouble believing this as a number 11 or 12 track on a Gaslight Anthem record; somber & reflective but not a downer; train references are always good;  "Boxing Day" – English by birth, Letts puts a rootsy background behind a holiday tradition Americans have a hard time understanding: a chance to start again; "Copper Bells" – I know its a tired trope, but this is the kind of song you'd expect to hear when walking through the swinging doors at an old west saloon; "La Mer" – nimble lyricism paired with unadorned acoustic guitar highlights Letts ability to excel in simplicity; "Skipping Stones" – Letts seems to be able to reach from an endless bag of fireside sing-along numbers, of which this is one; "Twenty Seven Arrows" – don't really know the background on the theological references but would like to Letts explain his perspective on this one; the electric guitar warmed up with a backing band and horns is a distinguishing factor; "Matches" – "looked at death and traded this life for love" –> better writing than you'll hear on most closing numbers