Artist: Aaron Lewis
Album: Town Line
Label: Stroudavarious Records
I have two words that immediately spring to mind – American and Idol. The sort of heavily sentimental subject matter that pervades these songs would be cannon fodder for the US’ premier talent search contest. Not that Mr. Lewis (late of Staind) himself ever appeared on AI, but I am starting to understand why a so-called music journalist recently claimed never to have heard of Carrie Underwood. If this is the kind of drivel you get lumbered with then perhaps a blanket form of selective oversight is your best option. All that said, I am actually an Idol fan, and a fan of Carrie’s, and really this album isn’t that bad. It’s just, you know…country. And as such, a little unintelligible to all outside its catchment zone.
Further, it can be nice to sample something a little different to the usual wailing alt-rock on occasion, and this is a world away. Town Line features five songs (and two edits) of plaintive musing, down-at-home life lessons, and ardent declarations of loyalty to kith, kin, and land. Lewis himself sounds alarmingly like Chad Kroeger but don’t let that put you off straight away. The songs are simple, devoid of any unnecessary furnishes, framed by acoustics and vocals only and this stripped-down authenticity certainly lends itself to the thoughts on offer.
“The Story Never Ends” opens with such an archetypal western twang you may giggle. Or start daydreaming and think you’re in The Bridges of Madison County. It’s a slow, concentrated number, tinged with melancholy, in which Lewis sings lovingly about home and family. It’s the first example of the warm moral values permeating the EP, with lots of emphasis on familiarity, love, and neighbourhood. Musically, there’s nothing too dramatic – the guitar is a constant companion, taking the odd liberty here and there, but otherwise simply serenading the homely emotions on show.
“Vicious Circles” somehow manages to be even slower. It’s very mellow, very reflective music, with much more emphasis on story than frame. There seems to be an awful lot of yearning and philosophising going on, which I suppose does befit the gentle tempo and familiar sounds – it’s music to think to, for a road trip, staring out the window at endless countryside. Either that or falling asleep. This number is a little sad alright, but far too dull to be truly affecting.
Not to over emphasize the Chad Kroeger comparison, but “Country Boy” also has more than a touch of “Rock Star” to it. It follows that this is actually the most accessible song on the album, with proud biographical lyrics that ought to appeal heavily to those with like backgrounds. It’s a bit too slow-burning to be really catchy, but the verses are easy to repeat and the music burns steadily nearby to inject this with a little more substance than the foregoing. Alas however, there’s a bit of an unfortunate – albeit predictable – final spoken verse burgeoning with patriotic relish. America is grand and all, and I can appreciate nationalistic fervor, but this does almost single handedly sum up the border divide country music has. It loses impact over oceans.
“Tangled Up In You” then, is a heinous, heinous duet about undying love. No. It ticks a fairly obvious box but is just horribly unwelcome. “Massachusetts” brings the album full circle, returning to the longing lyrics of the opening song as Lewis describes his joy to be returning to his home state. This positivity filters into the music, with a genuinely engaging and soothing streak to the acoustic six-string. Yet Lewis, as elsewhere, never feels strongly enough to break into anything resembling pace, and as such it plays out fairly unspectacularly, with little to offer other than an idealized view of safe havens and home comforts.
Hereafter, if you’re really into “Country Boy”, there’s a radio edit and an acoustic version, neither of which sound particularly divergent from the original to my ears, but just in case the first playing wasn’t enough! So, in general, this is, you know…country. It’s easygoing, but only because it’s so laconic as to be dreary, infused with all the life lessons you’ll need in this modern age of recklessness. It’s comforting in its own way, if you’re so inclined, and if you bring an open mind you may be surprised by its subtle charms. It is obviously intended for the world weary so, if ever you crawl out of a mosh pit one day and wonder where it all went wrong, Aaron Lewis can show you your way back.
Review written by: Grace Duffy