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"The Wayfarer"

Richard Warren – The Wayfarer
21 September 2011, 14:57 Written by Andy Johnson

At some point along the road, Richard Warren “got tired of lengthy, expensive studio trickery”, feeling that “life’s too short”. Even if this sounds like an unlikely sentiment coming from an experienced producer, a listen to Warren’s second album absolutely confirms that he spent very little time on smoothing over the sound. In fact, parts of The Wayfarer plumb sonic depths so murky that even its predecessor sounds like slick radio pop by comparison.

That album – last year’s Laments – largely lived up to its title in presenting a thoroughly funereal atmosphere. For his part, Warren didn’t so much front the record as stalk around it like a restless ghost, the intermittent promise in his songs choked by the heavy fuzz of the production. Given its fairly rapid turnaround, it is little surprise that this new record follows a very similar pattern. One song depicts Warren as ‘The Lonesome Singer in the Apocalypse Band’ and it’s an apt description – he captures the moody persona of America’s foundational blues and country men as he strums out his bleak and ominous tunes.

Once again, however, production will prove to be the divisive feature here. One or two songs have a sound so drab and leaden that they are almost unlistenable, like a 1930s vinyl recording of some forgotten Mississippi bluesman. What Warren might call authenticity, others could justifiably call inattention and a lack of care. While solo guitar opener ‘Rivington Street’ benefits from its obviously having been recorded in a cellar, The Wayfarer‘s grander tracks are devastated by a production which sabotages the fireworks of Warren’s Spector-lite arrangements before they have a chance to go off.

Perhaps for a musician like Warren, who has enjoyed a long career playing with many successful bands, making bleak, insular but obviously very personal records like these is a kind of necessary phase. On the basis of The Wayfarer, however, it is tempting to hope that it will be a short one.

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