27 October 2010

Arron Dean, Mpls (2010): Album Review

Here’s something I haven’t gotten a chance to review before: folk music. This may be mistaken with the country genre, but as I’ve learned about singer/songwriter Arron Dean’s past, the more I realize how foolish an error this is. Born on a farm outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Dean soon moved to the United States—where he’s lived in cities like Boston, New York City, and now the inspiration for this particular album, Minneapolis. Arron has spent the last 2 years recording songs and working with various musicians to record these songs about the wonders of travel and home, and compiled them together on his album Mpls.

He begins with a quiet ode about finding a long, lost love in the small city of “Buffalo, SD.” Dean’s voice is filled with pain yet is joyful in getting the chance “to see you one more time.” He moves south a bit for “St. Paul On Mississippi”—also moving away from the banjo-like dobro with accentuation on the piano melody. Both the distant chords of the piano and his hazy voice give the song a very haunting feel that is slightly ruined towards the end with a multitude of screeching backup vocals. The title track “Minneapolis” is quite pleasant and upbeat despite its woeful lyrics of a lover leaving and the good times they shared together in the city. He picks up the tempo even more for the drinking song “Unannounced” which contains some remarkable lyrical choices—“There’s nothing wrong in picking scabs to open wounds/it’s the only way we know what we lose.” This tune in particular tells a story which is quite entertaining to listen to. “I Think I’ll Be Alright” is very slow (and frankly, quite boring) until midway through when the rest of the band is introduced and injects a little flavor. The next ballad “Happy Hour” is a plea for a woman to be his wife, and has an almost epic feel with the assortment of cymbals, organ, and violin playing throughout. While not the best lyrically on the album, Dean croons it out to the best of his abilities—making it one of the record’s better tunes. After the brief ditty “Nothing Owed,” Dean brings on the grassroots vibe in “Sleep Without Me.” Although a little too long for its own good, its entertaining to try and determine the lyrics’ meaning—is he talking about some common tramp, a lover of his, or both? Arron strains his voice a bit on the next song, “Empire,” but the lyrics are so sorrowful it almost works. “I won’t be this last disaster/ I could be the only one.” They don’t make complete sense written down, but when being sung they are truly disheartening. He picks it right back up in “First Aid For The Choking,” which isn’t the most emotionally intriguing, but features a vivacious melody that reminds me of the quintessential traveling song. He uses 1950’s model “Betty Page” as the basis for his next tune that begs the question, “Are you my pretty Betty Page?” While a splendid metaphor, the yawn-inducing tempo does the lyrics no favors. Dean ends the album on a chipper note with “Thorn In Your Side”—a lively song about everlasting love that merrily plucks away on the banjo and skids across the fiddle, leaving the listener in high spirits.

All in all, Mpls could be described as a pleasant listen. While not my preferred genre of music, it still has that mellow vibe I so enjoy from the likes of Mumford & Sons and Darius Rucker. There are no true standout songs, but Arron Dean produces a solid effort that would serve as an ideal soundtrack for those lazy, kickback days when one can just chill and let the fiddles whisk you away.

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