Tuesday, September 3, 2013

REVIEW: Andy Fitts - Smoky Wilds

Andy Fitts is a Seattle-based singer/songwriter with an already-successful career as a studio musician and collaborator with some very successful artists. However, like a lot of very creative, talented musicians, he's got music of his own to get out. And fortunately for us, on Smoky Wilds, he found a way to get it out there.

Fitts has played with David Bazan and cites him as an inspiration - and I find a lot of similarities between the two. His vocal style reminds me of Bazan's, though his voice is a little bit "sweeter", perhaps. And he undergirds his music with more electronic stuff, but all to great effect. And it's certainly not all electronic - there are some very warm acoustic moments. "Father Time" is a pretty, acoustic ballad. And the guitar over the last minute or so of "Mean is a Bone", and at the beginning of "Yarn Tale" are well-played and well-placed. The latter turns into a quiet, ambient, really beautiful song to close out the record. An understated electric guitar solo, then a sort of minor electric guitar freakout in "My Axe" are highlights, too.

But his sweet spot is using his skill with electronics to create rich soundscapes in which to place his soulful, warm, affecting vocals.

Here's "Roll My Chair" - a good example of this approach. The song is mostly populated by beats, loops and beeps. Taken individually, you would not expect those parts to add up to such a "human" sound. But with Fitts' vocal, that's what you have:

Fitts gives some background on his approach and state of mind in making the record: "These songs are ideas that help me close the gap between the life that I want and the one that I am living... Stop envying everyone else's position and assuming that it is supremely desirable. This causes you to sink. Work through the sweet and the salty and the smooth and rough. Make deposits, and carry on. Bazan's work ethic has been a tremendous inspiration, especially as many of his peers have gone on to be hugely successful. He maintains his dedication to what he can uniquely bring."

There's a fundamental honesty and self-examination to that approach that is refreshing and, I think, leads to very satisfying music. It certainly has in this case. Smoky Wilds is highly recommended if you like Fitts' label mates David Bazan and Will Johnson (Centro-matic), or some of our other alt-folk favorites, Damien Jurado, Richard Buckner and Phosphorescent. It's a charming record that stays with you.

It's out today (Sept. 3) on Undertow Records.

Andy Fitts website
Undertow Records

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