Caleb Jehl has one seriously spiffy web site (www.calebjehl.com), so I had some seriously spiffy expectations for the music on his debut CD, the creative and thought-provokingly titled Without Simple Answers We Get Dangerous Questions.
“Broken and Bloody” kicks off the nine-song, 40-minute album with an urgently strummed acoustic guitar and call-to-action vocals, with Jehl bemoaning “I’m still fighting for a cause that’s losing.” The song is bare and bereft of any kind of sonic treatments, but both the guitar and vocals are nicely recorded, allowing the listener to focus on the lyrics and the rhythm of the song as it frequently adjusts to match pace with the ferocity of the message.
Unfortunately the rest of the album fails to display this same level of professionalism. Not that Jehl cares, because, as one culls from his website, he’s heavily into the entire Do-It-Yourself movement, and his “current focus - on destroying the corporate machine” means that it’s all about message and not about studio flash. I can understand such neo-folk thinking but counter with the reality that, when the modern ear hears muffled guitars or reverby vocals that sound like they were recorded in a closet, the effect is counterproductive in that the target audience either won’t listen or will listen only once, not allowing the message to sink in. The end result is that you end up preaching to the choir.
Now that I’m done with my own social commentary, let’s look into Jehl’s. The message is the music, so lyrics are shoehorned into the available space, giving a ragged urgency to Jehl’s warm voice. A few of the tracks feature a full band of drum kit, electric guitar, bass, vocals and sometimes keys. As on the remaining tracks that are comprised of just acoustic guitar and one voice, it sounds like microphones were set up and the song was recorded live, providing a very intimate, pressing edge to the songs. Of these three band songs, the strongest is “Save The Last Dance For The Divorce,” a throbbing, driving rocker that bridges shoegazer and indie with ease. This reviewer’s favorite “lone guitar” track was “Chasing My Point,” which has Jehl singing “I’d rather be dead than living this way” as the memorable song effectively joins the indie sound to that of mellow 70s folk rock.
As the lyrics are the key for this album. I thought I would include a smattering of them that I enjoyed: “Saying the buzzwords will always get you five more minutes” (“The Alter Call”); “Can we search your car? / Can we search your pockets?” (“I Fix The Truth”); “It’s just not working out” (“Moral High Ground”); and the languid delivery of “I pay my taxes” in “Whirlwind,” before Jehl begins to hoarsely scream unintelligibly, but passionately.
Without Simple Answers is full of passion and bold statements with a lo-fi live sound that will appeal to segments of the coffee house crowd. Caleb Jehl is a very promising performer and songwriter, with the majority of the songs sporting impressive melodies and hooks. He’ll be touring extensively, so be sure to catch his show and buy a copy of this album. Or download the entire album for free off his website so you’ll know the songs and can sing along. His CD release party at the independent Convolution Records has unfortunately been cancelled due to immature jerks trashing the store. Shame!
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