|Uppercase Talent: Andrew Landers Project, “Beautiful Depravity”|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Wednesday, 02 September 2009 05:55|
Andrew Landers' online biography states that the guitarist, singer, and songwriter is "unafraid of complicated topics and looks beyond the easy sentiment."
So the lead track on Beautiful Depravity is titled "Not in My Backyard" and faults folks for keeping a safe distance whenever possible from the horrors of the world: "You might fall into / Someone else's bad day / 'Sorry I can't stay.'" And in the rush of a verse, he sings: "Tell me again / What would Jesus do? / In fact, what will you do?"
It's a risky directness, and the most confrontational track on the whole record. But it's sweet medicine - propulsive, funky folk led by Landers' detailed acoustic guitar and a bright piano - and it's nearly impossible to begrudge the man's preaching. Crucially, the lyrics don't exclude their singer, and in the brief liner notes, Landers writes: "These songs reflect both who I am and what I want to become."
That humility is evident in these 17 songs. On "Lowercase Prophet," for example, the narrator is honest and weary: "Laying here staring at the ceiling / So tired I'm awake / Trying to unravel my latest mistake."
And when he's not trying to make us all better people, he's an observant songwriter, and those two traits sometimes intermingle. "Terminal B" takes in the humanity at an airport - the act of watching individual people makes them matter - and Landers eschews a songwriter's typical omniscience but understands the importance of specificity: "The intercom lady she's crazy / I can't understand a thing / I bet she used to work the drive-through at McDonald's or Wendy's or maybe it was Burger King."
Each song on the generous Beautiful Depravity has something to offer, whether it's the vulnerable falsetto and delicately played melody of "Man in the Moon," the soulful vocals of the earnest "Bittersweet" as it segues into gospel and still finds room for a lovely instrumental break, or the whimsical horn interludes of the offhandedly witty "Superhero," which imagines Justice League politics and creates a hybrid of Superman and Jesus: "That way I could save people twice. / That would be swell."
Landers is up-front about his Christianity on Beautiful Depravity, but it's not a sheltered spirituality. On "Lowercase Prophet," he sings: "I'd rather laugh with the sinners / Cry with the poor / Than fight with the born-again. / Their beautiful stained-glass windows / Seem to only see in."
His ambivalence and openness are magnetic. These songs are grounded in rock-solid faith, but they're drawn to weakness, shadow, frailty, and nuance: "Really interested in grace to come about / 'Cause I love Jesus / Just some of his followers / They wear me out."
And Landers is strong enough - as a writer, singer, player, and arranger - that even people who don't like "church-y" music will likely find much to appreciate here. The record is long, but it has a confident breadth, from the sharp and economical electric lead of "Typecast" to heartfelt ballads, and it gives Landers plenty of opportunity to explore. When the palette grows, the arrangements are full but clean, and Landers peppers the songs with plenty of surprises. Yet the overall vibe is drawn from a core of songs dominated by piano, acoustic guitar, and voice.
Even the weaker tracks have their bright spots. "Iowa Song" extols the green spaces of the Midwest and never gets beyond the pastoral clichés, but it has one indelible image, capturing a certain essential torpor of our region: "neon signs burning at a slower pace."
"Preacher Man" finds more truth, with its singer "writing music for a small world, and this half-pint, mid-size town." That might sound dismissive, but when Landers wraps his voice around those words, they're filled with affection.
His August CD-release show at the Redstone Room can be watched at LiveStream.com/TheAlp.
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