Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Michael Leonard Witham: "A Scandal in the Violets"
Michael Leonard Witham goes about the whole singer songwriter thing the right way, full of emotive angst that leaves the sarcasm dripping of his tortured voice. Pessimistic , but not really what I would call dark, if we are using the current crop of apocalyptic folk artists as the measuring stick for that. So this puts him more in the company of Neutral Milk Hotel and "Fevers and Mirrors " era Bright Eyes. The twang of country lingers in the backing instrumentation.
Witham claims to have gotten his start as a dumpster diver, the Yamaha guitar he salvaged from one of these exploits must have gotten some love over the years if it is the same acoustic guitar being strummed on "Down For Good". The lyrics get rougher when the music becomes smoother on '"Defective Heart". The harmonica on
" Oh, the Evil" is not the only common ground Witham shares with Mr. Zimmerman, like Bobby, his strength lies not in his pipes but in his ability to craft lyrics.
His does utilize some dynamics in his approach to singing most notably on" Sideways Grin and a Wandering Eye" his voice almost reminds me of Rod Stewart. Maybe not as melodic of a croon as Stewart carries in "Maggie May", but he works well within the bounds of what he has. He stays in similar Stewart territory on the upbeat "Miss LA", which to my ears sounds like it should be the album's radio single. It also carries the most conventional rock feel.
Witham comes back full circle to a much more country sound that he opened the album with on "Ordinary Hand". It is a bittersweet ballad with a reflective tone. There is a slight wink in the direction of Ryan Adams on this one. I expected "The Good Doctor's Double Vodka Blues" , but instead there is a swinging mix of Americana, that sways like the room spins in this ode to a Doctor's drinking days. It's a snide snapshot at back alley bars of small town America.
The "Blue Moon of Kentucky" two step that is "Last Pleas to Ashley Ann" is a sardonic, yet up beat explanation to drunken infidelity. It is probably the album's most straight forward song and something I could have seen the Violent Femmes doing in the late eighties. There are more bar room balladry on " Where the Witches Live' which I though would be darker, but with lines like "me and my girl Melaine/ she's a walking talking felony" it's hard to complain.
I found Withm's album to be a fun excursion away from what I normally listen to.The question for you is how much do you drink? Because these are drinking songs. The second half of the album could be played before, during or after any good bender. It would also be easy on the ears when you wake up from a hangover and are taking the drive to get your car out of impound. This is a very fitting soundtrack for anyone caught doing the walk of shame on the Sunday morning. It's a fateful position in the musical library I once reserved for Elliot Smith and ...well we know how that ended up so here's hoping Whitham is making drinking songs for years to come. .