Much of today’s music isn’t given a chance to breathe. The vocals are auto-tuned to irritating perfection, the guitars are pumped up to fill every sonic space and the lyrics have been painstakingly reviewed by teams of lawyers and record company pinheads so as to maximize audience appeal and profits. How refreshing it is to find an album like For You by Spencerville singer/songwriter T.J. Fields. Fields enlisted local recording guru Tom Tempel to capture 11 of his story songs in their natural environment. The result is a live, organic feel to the album and the impression that Fields is right there, performing the tunes in a coffee house surrounded by family and friends.
The intimate sound of the album is a result of the simplicity of its construction. Most of the songs contain a lone acoustic guitar, calmly strummed or plucked, and Fields’ hushed vocals that gently spin their yarns with a forlorn hint of innocence lost. Occasionally Chelsea De Vos adds vocal harmonies, such as in the opening track, the appropriately named “The Beginning,” in which Fields intones, “You can open up your eyes and find truth,” against clean finger-picked guitar.
The subject matter of these songs fits the subdued sound. Case in point, “The Ripple,” in which Fields examines the life-changing day his father had to be rushed to the hospital. He sings, “You’re the glue in this family / The best that I am” and wonders “What if you had gone? / What if you had died?” Another standout song is “The Moon” which really does sound as peaceful and quiet as the night crickets he sings about.
Every now and then Fields will shake things up by adding a harmonica (“The Moment” and “The Sunset”) or some percussive taps on the body of the guitar (“The Robber”). Other times, like in “The Hand,” the song is screaming out for another instrumental voice; say a cello to match the yearning in his voice. But, alas, it is not to be, for these songs are presented as they were born. Their very nakedness complements the lyrics in such a way that what is not played or sung is nearly as important as what is.
By drawing upon influences such as John Mayer, Damien Rice and Ben Folds, Fields captures snapshots of a lost and weary world. It’s a very personal world presented in a very vulnerable way. You’ll find no easy answers on For You, but you will find the kind of honest music and lyrics that bring relief to a tired soul. (Jason Hoffman)
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