by M. Lewis Barker
I made a list of bands in Provo, currently at 115, and over 40 of those play some variation of acoustic indie folk. The reason that this sort of music is so prevalent in Provo is that many wish to imitate those who play it well. Pablo Blaqk is no imitator. His new album, Sons & Daughters, co-produced by Blaqk and Provo’s premiere folk leader, Joshua James, is going to change the landscape of the genre here. It’s much braver and more experimental than a casual listen might indicate.
I met Pablo was at Wild Apples’ last show, and Ferocious Oaks were kind enough to let him play a song in the middle of their set. I had heard his name before, but never his music. While I can’t say I was blown away by the solo performance, I did honestly enjoy it and was excited to hear more. Luckily, one of my roommates is a good friend of Pablo’s and handed me an extra copy of the album a couple nights ago. I couldn’t wait to give it a review.
From the first few measures of the album, where Pablo sings “Sons and daughters, where have the animals gone to?”, I was already entranced. The piano and ambient white noises are out of this world. The faint echo of overdrive gives the short song a climax, and then the acoustic guitar of “Find Your Way” starts. Slide guitar and banjo accent the song in that cliche country folk way, but the sounds of crunchy guitars balance everything nicely. Watch the video and form your own opinion:
The rest of the album follows in a similar vein. Most of it is fairly melancholy and it all rings familiar. Though catchy songs like “Family Tree” and “Papa & the Sea” greatly elevate the mood, the majority is slower, more thoughtful. It’s the kind of album I can imagine a broken-hearted girl crying to. (Though I wouldn’t cry to it myself because crying isn’t cool.) It sounds like it could be a soundtrack, like Badly Drawn Boy’s music to About A Boy. I honestly hope that some folks out in Hollywood get a hold of this album and put some songs in their films and television shows.
The production is perfect. Many of the songs have at least one element that sets them apart from the rest. Whether it’s the electric guitars of “Find Your Way” or the synthesizers in “Didn’t Mean To”, Blaqk and James found unique ways to give the album its own voice. While it is difficult to know how much direct influence Joshua James had on the album, you can hear his idiosyncrasies creeping into each track.
Blaqk’s breathy voice is reminiscent of James himself or our beloved Cody Taylor (who I should mention is currently on iTunes’ “New and Noteworthy” under Singer/Songwriters along with Sayde Price. Provo represent!) Blaqk separates himself from his contemporaries by being more of a baritone. If you find yourself tired of folk singers, then this album could be grating. At least Blaqk’s much more resonant tone in “Annalee” had me checking the album’s liner notes to make sure it wasn’t a different vocalist. I would like to hear more of the album through that voice. But the man can sing very well and it perfectly compliments the music, no matter what he is doing.
“Dear Abbey” may be my favorite song on the album, but I’m a sucker for songs with slow buildups and big climaxes. The synth, horns, and piano all work together to wake up the listener. But they feel earned, never coming in too early. But the string arrangements of “Papa & the Sea” find themselves competing for my affection. Many different instruments are used to create a somewhat dreamy experience.
If I were the type of reviewer to give out ratings, Sons & Daughters would have quite a high ranking. Though it is kind of sad that those first two minutes of introduction may be the most inspiring thing on it. The rest of the album is inspiring, emotional, and very real, but it falls firmly into that genre of “Provo Folk” (“Provolk?”). It’s far from my favorite kind of music, but it’s something I enjoy immensely when done right. I salute Mr. Blaqk, Mr. James, and everyone who contributed to this album, especially the musicians whose competency sculpted the many sounds found within. You can purchase Sons & Daughters on iTunes or from PabloBlaqk.com. And there’s going to be a big deal CD Release Party up in Salt Lake at Brewvie’s Cinema Pub on Thursday, April 14.