Danny Resner reviews Jeremy Aggers' new CD
CD review: Jeremy Aggers, "What it Comes Down To." 2009. Brash Music.
Jeremy Aggers is a man with an acoustic guitar: a formula contemporary music shows no sign of exhausting.
The "What it Comes Down To" EP, his first commercial release and the first installment in a three-record deal with Atlanta-based Brash records, does not add anything new to the vocabulary of pop music, but an album does not need break down walls to be worth hearing. Aggers' flair for lyrical storytelling and often vivid imagery keeps him afloat at his best above the thronging, strumming crowd of other men with acoustic guitars.
Aggers, a Catawba College alumnus, has drawn reasonable comparisons to fellow North Carolinian James Taylor. The two share something in their relaxed vocal delivery and carefully reserved arrangements, heavy with fingerpicked guitar. Aggers' vision is slightly darker than Taylor's, however. His songs are not melancholic by any stretch, but there's a sadness through them.
In his closing song, "Beautiful Drive," Aggers sings, "she's holding your hand all the way/with her nails diggin' in, she begs you to stay/but you know if you do you'll regret it someday/…in the fight nobody wins/when the end is where it begins.' But by the end the character has resolved to 'keep driving instead.' There's loss there, but there's also hope: the beautiful drive goes on, despite the vain fight.
According to Brash records' profile, Aggers takes inspiration for his lyrics from news headlines, literature, and years spent traveling the country as an actor. He doesn't flaunt the wandering artist image like he might, but his songs clearly come from experience, the kind which such a man would be no stranger to.
He's good for a nature metaphor any day, but Aggers draws some of his most memorable lines from the same creative well from which countless works of art have sprung: the opposite sex. 'That girl is an answer to a question I'm afraid to ask,' he sings, and elsewhere, almost echoing an old bluesman: 'If the Lord doesn't get you, the woman will instead.'
The album's production is sparse, often as lonely as the songs. This places the focus firmly on Aggers' vocals and nimble guitar. The latter carries the second track, "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow," named for the animal rumored to have caused the 1871 Great Chicago Fire (Brian Wilson wrote a song with the same title). There Aggers plays fast, fluid runs; mutes his guitar rhythmically; delivers a gratifying chorus motif; and ends with a familiar bluegrass cadence.
Michael Dana 'increases beat production by 100%,' according to the act's MySpace page, backing Aggers ably and tastefully on all percussion. He is at his best on the jangly "Leather Strap."
Bass and various keyboard sounds make up the rest of the record's instrumentation. Aggers uses these for color; in the title track, for example, a bowed upright bass becomes an aural image of all the depth and hopeless weight pressing silt on the ocean's floor.
In "The Question," mostly successful keyboards, string pads, and vibraphones conjure the clarity and beauty of Aggers' wintry imagery.
Aggers' songs are easy to hear, and while his formula may be familiar, his words are often not.
- - -
For more information, visit www.jeremyaggers.com.
- - -
Musician Danny Resner attends UNC-Asheville and performs with The Baker Family Band.