Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
As an independent music critic, there are two genres of music I receive above all others: hip hop, and folksy singer songwriters. As a result of this, each of those artists must rise to a particularly high bar to escape the noise of their respective scenes. A certain aura of authenticity is necessary to that. While leaning more toward country and rock stylings, Donnie Young is an artist that certainly occupies that latter community of singer songwriters. His debut album is ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost.’ Does it cut through the noise?
Young’s sound is nothing new. It’s a self-described “mixture of country, rock, blues, and folk.” That doesn’t stop his music from excelling within its own sphere, though, and ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is a superb example of an artist honing a well-tested sound in a mostly original way. Young performs most of the guitar parts and all of the lead vocals, and the rest of the instruments are performed by previous bandmates of Young’s. All of them are in fine form throughout the entirety of the collection.
‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ opens with its titular track, a folksy Americana tune that’s accented nicely by Young hopping into the backdrop of the main vocal with a series of harmonies. The production is sharp, focused largely around acoustic instrumentation, shakers, and brief, but effective harmonica sections. Most importantly, ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is very well written, and sets a solid stage for the music that follows it.
‘Smile’ begins to evolve Young’s sound further, utilizing piano, sparse electric guitar riffing, and upbeat melodies. There’s a Nashville-esque twang to Young on the track, but I’d argue his sound is more akin to the midwestern songwriters you hear out of states like Colorado. (Which would make sense, since Young does spend half of his time there.)
‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ further completes an electronic manifestation of Young’s sound that was hinted at on ‘Smile.’ The rowdy track is thickly produced with bright timbre electric guitar jamming as Young maneuvers his way through a series of lyrical tropes. In contrast to the insightful songwriting of ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost,’ ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ sounds more like a Jimmy Buffett track gone awry.
Fortunately, the kitschy nature of ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ is short lived. ‘Sorry Baby’ is a much better tune, one with some searing blues influence, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are playful as Young casts aside a lover with a suave wave of the hand. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ follows, offering Young’s longest excursion on the record. The Rolling Stones cover is a nicely written song, but the seven minute length of the tune does prove problematic due to its meandering nature. Nevertheless, the guitar solos are particularly excellent, reminiscent of Neil Young’s performance style in the early Crazy Horse days.
‘Soulshine’ is an interesting track. It offers Young's second cover on the album, this time borrowing from Warren Haynes, and the acoustic-focus of the composition is exactly what the songwriting was clearly begging for. ‘Never Take You Back’ is similarly executed, focused squarely on a minimalist production and performance. Young is at his very best in these types of situations.
There’s nine songs on ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost,’ and then there’s ‘TW Funk.’ Young trades in his acoustic guitars and harmonica in favor of dance floor synthesizers, eighties-style lyricism, and overbearing bass lines. I can appreciate the bold creative direction of ‘TW Funk,’ but it’s not a particularly ‘good’ track. It’s an awkward synth-pop dance track in the middle of an Americana record. Its presence just doesn’t make any sense and it seems more like a novelty than anything.
‘Get out of Town’ is a track I’ve had come across my desk in a bunch of variations over the last year or two - the whole “the world is becoming more divided and aggressive and I just need to get into my escapism as soon as possible” vibe. It works for Young, but the lyricism prevents it from being an overly compelling track. In comparison, the finale, ‘The Woman Song,’ plays with a bunch of country cliches, but doesn’t take itself seriously. As a result, it’s a much more enjoyable track. (On the physical CD's, 'The Woman Song' is a hidden track.)
‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost’ is better than the vast majority of debut albums from any genre. Young has some truly excellent tracks: the title track, ‘Smile,’ and ‘Sorry Babe’ to name a few. There are some weak points, too, like ‘It’s Always the Weekend ‘Round Here’ and ‘TW Funk.’ That’s okay, because it gives Young room for improvement on his sophomore album. I suspect he’ll get notably better with each release, and he’s an artist very much worth keeping tabs on.