Sometimes I just feel terribly bad for emerging artists. Not because of their struggles, difficulties in breaking out, or anything as simple as that. I often feel bad because somewhere along these artists’ long hard road to the middle, someone has told this person that they could actually sing. Sometimes that gamble pays off, such as with Sufjan Stevens. His friends urged him not to sing when he started to record the follow-up to the electronic-based experimental Enjoy Your Rabbit, the young folk artist’s first step to greatness, A Sun Came. In most instances, however, the result is disastrous. Case in point, Peter Walker’s (unbelievable) second album. As I said, I feel bad, but Young Gravity simply left me shaking my head with compassion.
Surely, singer / songwriters need to have a distinctive voice to set them apart from the pack. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan all have such distinct voices that listeners can either love them or hate them. Even more recent artists such as Patrick Park, Pete Yorn and Ed Harcourt, who may not be nearly as distinctive, at least put their own imprint on everything they do. Peter Walker, on the other hand, leans so much towards the bland, that any distinction in his vocal pattern just sounds as if he’s wildly off key. Producers Aaron Espinoza (Earlimart) and Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy) both recently collaborated on producing Irving’s Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers, a stunning album of ’60s pop and indie aesthetics, for sure a record of which they can be proud. But Young Gravity is an album that is probably best left off the résumé, like that job you held for a month at Tower Records before you got fired for liberating product.
In the song, “By a Thread,” Walker sings that he is, indeed, “hanging on by a thread,” and I couldn’t agree more. Albums from singer / songwriters all rest on the voice of the artist and there’s just nothing here to support success. These songs don’t merely slip out of your memory; they force you to forget them entirely. As on the closer, “On TV,” vocal effects don’t hide the problem, they merely put a spotlight on it. “39 Stars,” sometimes mentioned in other reviews as one of the highlights, made me wince on more than one occasion with its pained vocal delivery. I don’t want to be completely negative; it’s not usually my style. So I can say that fans of west coast singer / songwriters with voices that require an acquired taste will surely find something worthy in Young Gravity. I just hope I’m not the first person to warn Mr. Walker away from singing. He’s a decent enough musician and could easily end up being a great collaborator in a band (in which he does not sing), but his solo work leaves something to be desired.
Joseph Arthur- Big City Secrets
Peter Salett- Heart of Mine
Ben Harper- Burn to Shine