I may not have anything in common with most recording artists out there, but sometimes in a particular set of songs you find a kindred spirit. This is what I found when Alan Semerdjian sent me his CD. This Armenian-American Renaissance man does it all. When you `google’ Semerdjian, chances are you’ll see just as many sites that feature his poetry as do his music. Besides all that, he’s a high school English teacher! Having dabbled in poetry and at various points resigning myself to getting that teaching credential, I felt an immediate connection to Semerdjian’s work. When There Was Something Wrong With You is his newest CD, a collection of songs he’s recorded over the last three years, showcasing his noteworthy voice and writing talents.
Semerdjian’s songs weren’t always so intimately quiet and personal. He started out in the New York alternative band Surreal before collaborating with Milquetoast, the Watercats and Stratosphere. Now, with the production assistance of the Elected’s Mike Bloom, a longtime friend and collaborator, Semerdjian brings us his own personal musical vision, sixteen songs of acoustic intimacy that ease the troubled mind. Semerdjian’s roots-rock style, with violas, Hammond organs, lap steel, and toy pianos added in for good measure, reminds me of a couple of fine radio stations to which I’ve listened. KSCA only lasted for three years in Los Angeles as an `adult-alternative’ station, but in that time, they hosted various and sundry legendary artists, making benefit CDs out of the live performances. These CDs were hotly sought after, featuring live cuts from such acts from Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan to Peter Gabriel and the Barenaked Ladies. The other station is Seattle’s `The Mountain,” eerily similar in format, simply in a different time and place. (The Mountain is also putting out live performance CD’s).
But there are particular songs on the KSCA mix that I am reminded of when listening to Alan Semerdjian’s compositions. Dave Alvin’s “King of California” struck me with its storytelling style and heartfelt emotion just as Boz Scaggs’ version of his famous “Lowdown,” still bluesy, but a little more intimate in the live setting. At other times, Semerdjian’s album can remind me of the Counting Crows, albeit less whiny (thank God), the Wallflowers, without an affected gruffness, or two great Johns, Hiatt and Prine. I can only imagine that his Herricks High School kids think he’s the coolest teacher they’ve ever had.
Counting Crows- August and Everything After
The Wallflowers- Bringing Down the Horse
Dave Alvin- King of California