(Self-released, CD, digital download)
In the years following the dissolution of his acoustic-rock band, Simon, Burlington’s Steve Hartmann took a hiatus from public performance and focused his efforts on becoming a solo artist. Now, nearly 10 years later, Hartmann unveils the fruit of those labors, his solo debut, Waking Up the Echoes. The slickly produced album captures the essence of Hartmann’s sensitive-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar groove and harks back to the heyday of similarly earnest pop artists, such as Crash-era Dave Matthews and Recovering the Satellites-era Counting Crows.
Depending upon your predilection for such fare, the album’s tendency toward confessional acoustic groove could either be its great strength or fatal flaw. It is, in truth, a rather dated sound, and Hartmann does little to push it into the current century. But for those who pine for bygone days, the aptly titled Waking Up the Echoes could stir some long-dormant specters.
Hartmann is a polished guitarist. His nimble lead lines are buoyed by a percussive rhythmic style that is both laid-back and insistent. He’s equally compelling as a vocalist. In quieter moments, Hartmann’s clean tenor is sweetly soothing, which sets a fine contrast for those instances, typically choruses, when he lets loose with soulful bluster. While occasionally prone to oversinging — and thus going flat — he can certainly wail. And he’s judicious, rarely favoring force when a subtler approach is called for. Especially on cuts such as the title track, “Walk in My Rain” and “Coming Home,” Hartmann strikes a commendable dynamic balance that often mirrors his potent, emotionally ?direct lyricism.
The album’s flaw is not whether it was born a decade or two late, or occasional lapses in pitch. It’s a pervasive sameness. Say what you will about Dave Matthews, but, particularly at the time he rose to fame, his music was structurally adventurous — especially for pop. While Hartmann does an admirable job accenting his music with certain sonic flourishes — especially well-placed guitar harmonics — at their core, his songs are compositionally predictable. The result is a collection that, while generally pleasant, fails to inject new life, or ideas, into a well-worn idiom.
Waking Up the Echoes by Steve Hartmann is available at cdbaby.com. He plays the Big Heavy World Musicians for Musicians Panel and Concert at the Black Box Theater at Main Street Landing in Burlington on Wednesday, January 23.