Click to hear: “All Seeing Eye“
The Lomax Album is a debut, but from the first listen it’s clear a group of seasoned musicians is behind the wheel. This strong collection of pop-inflected alt-country knows where it’s going and get there safely — a little too safely for this critic’s tastes, but it’s satisfying all the same.
Singer and acoustic guitarist Andy Ellis wrote nine of the 11 tracks, with multi-instrumentalist (mostly guitar in this band) Dave Ragsdale contributing two. The arrangements are straight-ahead: verses and chorus alternating in familiar fashion, with a breakdown here and a solo there, all well executed, no flash. (Hey, not every alt-country act morphs into Wilco; I suppose that’s OK.)
Ellis has an appealing, everyman’s voice. There are no histrionics, no pretending or fake twanginess. It’s a guy in Maine delivering his songs with his buddies by his side: drummer Dave “Suede” Fields, guitarist Brian Patrick, and Chris White on bass, keys and backing vocals, which Ragsdale also contributes.
Ellis’ brick-solid songs are spiced with humor and smarts. One of my favorite moments comes toward the end of the down-tempo love song “It’s You.” “Why do I have these thoughts? / They do no one any good / Why do I ask these questions? / I’ve never understood / Why did you steal my heart like fuckin’ Robin Hood? / It’s you.”
“Lewiston Kids,” which previously appeared on last year’s volume of Greetings From Area Code 207, is funny and biting throughout. It’s a song about teenagers that basically says, “L/A, it ain’t happenin’ here.”
The opener, “All Seeing Eye,” is the catchiest track to my ear. It could rock more, and likely does live, but turning up the volume helps. “Charming Margaret,” a song about adoring a daughter, is charming despite its super-saccharine sentimentality, thanks to lines like: “What Johnny Marr’s guitar did on records with Morrissey / Is how I might describe the effect that you’ve had on me / Bringing happiness to gloom / When you walk into a room you make me smile.”
The bouncy “Moby Jane” leads off with this winner: “You can call me Ishmael / You can call me what you like but don’t call me.” Nice. Ragsdale’s melancholy “On the Bus” shows he’s also got a way with lyrics.
The album gets a bit bogged down toward the end. “Louisville” and “On the Other Side” — at nearly five minutes each, the longest songs here — get trying after a couple listens. In the former, Ellis just overwrites; the latter should simply be trimmed by a minute or two.
Overall, The Lomax Album works. Portland’s been missing alt-country bands like this for awhile. The Lomax fills the gap in fine style.
— Chris Busby
The Lomax plays a CD release show on Fri., Feb. 20, at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m., with King Memphis opening. Tix: $5 (21+). 879-8988. For more on the band, visit myspace.com/thelomaxband.