Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tyrone Wells - Snapshot

Genres are an artifice by which we categorize musical sounds. Closely related genres often overlap.  These  “crossover” albums are sought by many an artist.  A successful country artist can have a hit that also hits the folk or rock charts.  A soft rocker may also make the jazz charts.  Genre cubbyholes, while loved by record labels as they allow the company to market to a particular consumer group, actually may hinder the development of music.  For example, if a song is characterized as “Christian Rock” it is unlikely to make the “Heavy Metal“ rock charts. Yet, there is much in common between these two genres and, frankly, the categorization ultimately means a lost audience based solely on the genre label the company attaches to the recording. 

One artist that defies genre categorization is Tyrone Wells.  Wells was the youngest of five children of a preacherman in Spokane, WA. During his youth, due to his strict religious upbringing, he was only permitted to listen to gospel music.  As he aged he eventually was introduced to musicians such as Stevie Wonder and James Taylor.  When he arrived for college in Southern California he hooked up with a Christian Rock band, Sky Park, and became their lead singer.  Sky Park released a few albums before Wells left to pursue his own vision.  In 2000, he became a weekly coffee house act at McClain’s in Fullerton, CA and sold his own self-released albums at the shows. One of those albums is his 2003 release on True American Records called “Snapshot.”

Snapshot combines soul, folk, blues, pop, country and classic rock on twelve stirring tracks. “No Good Without You”  could easily be a Jonny Lang blues song. “Watching My World Walk By” is a soulful piece with a funky bass riff that reminded me of New Orleans-based blues music.  “Sea Breeze” is a beautiful love song that John Mayer or James Blunt would probably have loved to have written and performed. “I Will Remember You” jangles into an acoustic folk song that has a Tom Petty vibe.  “Wondering Where You Are” is a slow pop love song.  “Fool’s Parade” is an orchestrated story teller’s folk pop song about lost love.  “This Time” is a country rocker that echoes the Byrds and Little River Band.  “Carolina Blues” is a cute country folk song about Wells’ extended family. “All I Can Do” is a dark, slow love ballad that one would expect from someone like Josh Groban.  “Messenger” is an all-out classic rocker with Christian overtones.  “The Way You Shine” is a classic 1980’s rock ballad.  It channels early 10cc. “When All Is Said And Done” is a reflective acoustic folk song that is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen with orchestration by Neil Young.

Wells’ writing is as good as his musicianship and voice.  For example, take this lyric from “All I Can Do”: 

Another day slips away,

I get this feeling nothing has changed,

But these years keep coming like rain and wash over me day after day.

I just watch them rolling by,

Standing here beneath the sky 

And I can’t hold the hands of time,

They will move like they will move,

But I can hold your hand in mine,

Give my time, give my heart, it is all that I can do.

He is a genre bender and that may, to some extent, limit his success.  It is a shame.  The guy has chops and now has six studio albums under his belt, the most recent being his 2010 release called Metal and Wood.  Snapshot is just that - a quick look into all of the different types of music that Wells can write and perform.  It is a release that might have been hard to categorize for the record company marketing department but it was easy to categorize for his audience.  It is just plain awesome.

- Old School

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