I remember 1998 like it was yesterday, and I remember how I enthusiastic I was back then about the future of Americana. Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was brand new, and it proved that there was a place for rootsy grit within the confines of popular music. Wilco were in the process of translating the No Depression vibe of its first album into the retro jangle of Summerteeth, and on the local scene, David Todoran released Solstice, solid evidence that he knew where American music had been and where it was going, and that he knew how to tie the two together. It was a giddy time for fans like me. And then everything went dark. Williams took three years to follow up Car Wheels, and she stumbled a bit when she did. After Summerteeth and the departure of Jay Bennett, Wilco turned their back on songs that Jeff Tweedy disdainfully referred to as “rockers” and focused instead on feedback- and rumble-laden jams. And just five years after Solstice, Todoran went quiet, too. Now we’ve come forward a decade, and what passes for rootsy pop music these days is made by American hipsters imitating British bands that are imitating American folk music. I’m not so giddy any more.
To say that True, Todoran’s new album, picks up the ball that Wilco left on the court after Summerteeth sounds like hyperbole, but it’s exactly what I’m thinking as I listen to the collection of jangly, poppy tracks. Everything I was so excited about 15 years ago is here: the acute awareness of history, the just-right level of production, the disarming juxtaposition of moods. What feels best about the music is its sincerity; there’s irony in the combination of somber lyrics with bright melodies, but the affection for old pop forms is anything but ironic.
Take the opening track, for example. Todoran may sing that his love is “all butterflies and rain,” but somewhere under the bouncy refrain, which could have been drawn straight from the Monkees’ catalog, there’s a weight that borders on melancholy. It may seem shiny on the surface, but I’m not buying it.
Throughout True, Todoran channels post-British-invasion 60s pop, throwing in everything from bubble gum to psychedelia. I’m hearing post-Pepper Beatles and Neil Young (or at least CSNY), The Who and maybe even a touch of Zeppelin. I’d still call it Americana, but it’s a very cosmopolitan kind of Americana. More importantly, it’s not historic pop seen through the eyes of a kid who’s getting the news third-hand. It’s smart, it’s worldly and it’s right on the money.
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