The return of an intermittent series of posts reviewing recent releases by Lehigh Valley musicians.
Used to be, if you liked a song and wanted to hear how it had progressed through the writing process, you had one of two choices:
1. Collect bootlegs of uncertain provenance and sound quality.
2. Wait 30 years and hope the artist puts his rough drafts out on some sort of career-spanning vault-tape collection.
The online music era makes life much easier in this regard. It’s easy (and, in my experience, fairly common) for a performer to toss out a couple different takes on a song that catches their fancy.
Letter A-Frame, a recent online release by Bethlehem-area singer-songwriter Curtis Chris Roman, finds Roman exploring three variants of a single song metaphorically dealing with storms, stress and security, huddling beneath a roof made of “grace and tar.” (An OK metaphor, that, for the combination of the divine and earthy that gets us through the days and nights.)
They’re not massively different. But they’re different enough to be worth hearing and considering. And, they’re a glimpse inside the creative process, which is interesting.
According to Roman’s bio, he recently resumed recording after a six- or seven-year musical layoff. His strengths are a gravel-edged voice, some quietly effective guitar chops, and the old folk/country way of turning a few basic chords into a working song.
Personally, I think the stuff that stays truest to its folk/country roots is the best stuff on Letter A-Frame.
“Over To You” — which began as country-folk, Roman says, and ended as some kind of rootsy electro — is kinda burdened by what sounds like a stiff machine-generated backbeat. A little more wind blowing through it would probably do it good.
While I like “First Comes/Catasauqua Girl,” I find the echoey voice in the background to be distracting; to my ears, it doesn’t fit in. Were it up to me (caveat: No one has ever asked me to produce their record), I might have mixed it out front with the lead vocal, for a sort of duet.
And while the Dinosaur Jr.-inspired instrumental and the ditty about Evil Santa have their place, I find the more traditional songwriting to be the material that stays with me the most.
On a certain level, this is nitpicking. Letter A-Frame is Roman’s first collection of songs, and it’s only natural that a first album try a couple of different approaches.
What really counts is that he’s got a guitar back in his hands; the creative juices are flowing again; and if both grace and tar hold out, we’ll hear more from him.
“Letter A-Frame” is currently available as a name-your-own price download here, though Roman indicates on his Facebook page it will only be free for a limited time.