Having discovered Austin's Seth Walker from afar via his very fine debut, I've made a point to follow his musical evolution through this, his third disc. And quite the evolution it's been.
Seth's first disc, 1997's "When It Rains It Pours," was more or less a straight-ahead blues outing, albeit blues with a jazzy edge, not terribly deep but likeably breezy and easy going. His next outing saw him chomping at the bit, anxious to break away from twelve-bar convention; the process seems complete with "Restless." Seth's pretty much left the blues behind on this one (at least according to dictionary definition), instead favouring a relaxed rootsy sound that nonetheless retains a bluesy sensibility, with a heaping helping of southern soul for flavouring.
Seth, of course, isn't the first artist to move beyond his origins as a bluesman. And while few would deny an artist the right to pursue his or her muse, the results are often disappointing to blues fans. I can't see anyone being too upset by Seth's musical development, however; "Restless" is a superb recording, one that reveals more and sinks deeper with each spin.
Forgoing electric guitar almost entirely this time out (what's there is largely for texture, and most of it's courtesy of producer Steven Doster), Seth instead sticks almost exclusively to acoustic guitar; bass, too, is all-acoustic, with PB Shane and drummer Rob Hooper laying down swaying, swinging grooves in support of Seth's all-original playlist. Mr. Hooper in particular is invaluable here, his inventive percussion doing much to make the project an unqualified success.
It's hard to categorize Seth's material. It's a bit too gentle for rock, bluesier and with more soul than one usually associates with folk. There's a bit of violin here, moody organ wheezing in the background there, occasional brass to add punch; there are hints of calypso (on both "You Are Everywhere" and "Run Away With Me"), the intro to "Real Thing" owes much to Marvin Gaye, and straight Memphis soul ("Round And Round") that'd make Dann Penn proud. There's a touching tribute, utterly devoid of bathos, on "She's My Momma," and world-weary resignation on "Going With The Grain." Yet nothing is the least bit derivative. It's simply that Seth's absorbed many influences and synthesized them effectively into a unique sound very much his own. If I absolutely had to give it a label I'd settle on 'acoustic southern soul.'
Seth's vocals are perfect for his material, his laconic drawl an ideal match for the relaxed pace he favours. (There are a few moments when he's almost too relaxed, veering perilously close to off-key, but that's quibbling, really; his voice has that effect, like James Taylor's, of sounding like an old friend the first time one hears it).
Seth could easily have chosen to stick with blues conventions, but both he and we would be the poorer for it. This is a wonderful disc.
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