Published Sep 28, 2016Ken Yates' latest album harkens back to when Dan Mangan, Daniel Romano and City and Colour started flexing their alt-country/indie-folk muscles around the beginning of this decade, or even when Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams and Wilco started breaking through with this sound a decade prior. All those acts have since diversified and evolved, and singers like Josh Tillman have outgrown the serious and sombre folk thing, becoming aware of the performative nature of "authenticity." All of which is to say that Huntsville feels like a bit of musical nostalgia for past musical nostalgia.
Maybe those are unfair or unnecessary comparisons. Yates is certainly a talented singer-songwriter-guitarist, and many people will find comfort in the rustic familiarity of his music. Lead single "Keep Your Head Down" is an upbeat road song conveying determination in the face of dark nights full of strangers and the transience of road life, while "Help Is on the Way" has an earnestness that would make it fit nicely alongside Randy Newman's work for Disney.
The songs sound good and demonstrate musical talent, but the themes (both melodic and lyrical) seem a bit mundane. The textures are pretty in-the-box and generic — folky finger-picking, slide guitar, simple drums, etc. — and the lyrics have a lot of clichéd references to highways/roads, houses/homes and nature imagery. This is not inherently negative, but it's very well-trod territory, to the point of pandering slightly to folk-country audiences.
And yet, on Huntsville, Yates demonstrates that he's both a strong songwriter and a straightforward talent. He's doing the basics very well, suggesting the possibility for future growth and nuance. (Independent)