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.
Last December, I lauded a folk outfit from Brisbane - Fugitive & the Vagabond - for their incredible debut album. The collection, which was entitled ‘Novella,’ was an articulate, fully realized endeavor quite unlike anything I had heard in 2016. The frontman of the band, Jordan Merrick, has now stepped out on his own and has a new EP out. At five tracks in length, ‘In Colour’ is a sonic journey that aligns more closely to Merrick’s artistic aspirations than his work with Fugitive & the Vagabond did. Let’s delve deep into it.
Like his work with Fugitive & the Vagabond, Merrick’s solo effort is focused largely in folksy Americana musings. His sound has a very 1960s Greenwich Village style, akin to young Dylan, Van Ronk, and the like. ‘Untitled #1,’ the opening of the album, sounds a bit like a spiritual successor to ‘Dink’s Song,’ even opening with the line, “If I had wings that I could trust…”
The acoustic guitar performance on ‘Untitled #1’ is rooted in delta blues method, too, especially with the deliberate, plodding bass notes. I adore that Merrick has opted for such a simplistic performance and recording style to give these kind of songs stunning emphasis through brevity. ‘Untitled #1’ is Merrick, his guitar, and some light reverb. It’s authentic, focusing squarely on his poetic imagery and delicate acoustic picking.
‘An Unwritten Song’ follows, incorporating a sharp, high-pitched harmonica into the sound. Again, the Dylan influence glistens through each song heavily. “I’m going to need you to get through the night,” Merrick croons in a song that’s lavish with vivid imagery. That imagery is often very aged in nature, sounding more like it’s coming from a 1961 coffee shop in Greenwich Village than the contemporary scene, but perhaps that’s a good thing.
Slightly more upbeat than its predecessors, ‘You Gotta Go’ provides a more snappy, foot-tapping melody, albeit one that has some melancholy lyricism. There isn’t a defining moment of ‘You Gotta Go,’ however, that concretes its place on the album. Its themes are already explored in both of the tracks preceding it. That certainly isn’t the case for ‘Working Mans Blues,’ though, the track that follows and stands out against the rest for several reasons.
As the title suggests, ‘Working Mans Blues’ describes the plight of the proletariat, blue collar worker, this time scored by a piano performed by Jonny Smith. It’s a lovely song and Smith's instrumentation is gorgeous, but it is the album’s most obvious example of becoming too derivative in its Dylan influence. Thematically, structurally, musically, and lyrically, it’s eerily similar to Dylan’s ‘Working Man’s Blues #2.’ The end of the song even uses the same hook Dylan croaks on his version: “sing a little working man’s blues.”
The album’s final song, ‘Birdman,’ is a tune that aligns more with Johnny Cash or Townes Van Zandt, telling the story of an outlaw of sorts, the “Birdman.” It’s a splendid performance, closing the album on the collection’s highest note. The story of ‘Birdman’ is much more captivating than, say, the subject matter of ‘You Gotta Go.’
At the end of the day, ‘In Colour’ is a terrifically produced, written, and performed folk record. The songwriting is solid. A bit too often, though, Merrick does run into territory of being a tad too derivative of his influences, particularly Zimmerman. (‘Working Mans Blues’ being the obvious example here, though young Dylan is peppered throughout.) Merrick’s sound is excellent, but he should watch the line he’s walking, because he should want to sound like Jordan Merrick - not Bob Dylan. He hasn’t defined that sound just yet, but this is a good starting point.
Twitter & Instagram: @JordanMerrick18