Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: Ted Brown - An Unwide Road

The best art typically comes from personal experience. Whether inspired by anecdotal family tales or something that just happened to the artist yesterday, those songs that capture that visceral, open, and vulnerable places are those that hit home most squarely. They’re the type of songs that don’t need much embellishment, as the honesty of the track itself and the pure emotion delivering it do all the heavy lifting, leaving little room for needless additions.

New Zealand-born Ted Brown’s latest work, An Unwide Road, is such an album, capturing the artist’s journey from dark to light across a spectrum of emotions and introspective, soul-searching acoustic palettes.
Brown’s tale is one of dark roads of addiction, as the promising singer, songwriter, and guitarist on the rise fell into a seven-year-long drug habit that sent him spiraling downward. It’s an old tale, as the private artist has been sober for nearly ten years, but it’s one that he felt prepared to share now, allowing the album’s themes to draw heavily from those experiences.

“The meaning of the title is twofold. On one hand, it references how little country roads take you to the most awe-inspiring places,” Brown says. “But it also refers to my life. I spent years doing exactly what I wanted and I hurt myself and other people. I have this great life now, but the road is much narrower—I don’t get to do what I please—but the outcome is so much better.”
And the outcome of An Unwide Road isn’t too shabby either.

Recorded in Auckland, New Zealand at Roundhead Studios and produced by Wayne Bell, the album is clean and sparse, the production letting Brown and his vocals do most of the work with just a few additional touches here and there to lend the tracks an extra element of gravity. The title track launches things with a warm, country-tinged arrangement that moves along easily, Brown’s lived-in baritone vocals comfortable and inviting. Contrastingly, “Love Is” brings some fingerpicked folk guitar together with lyrics of searching and pursuit as the artist shares, “I suspect love is an action more than a state of mind,” his voice humble and resonant.
A similar vibe informs “Least We Can Do,” Brown invoking thoughts of Jim Croce and Cat Stevens while “Blue and Grey” and “Raining Roses” press forward with honest questions and classic coffeehouse singer-songwriter arrangements. On “Bringing My Past Back (But Not to Haunt Me)” Brown brings some sonic texture, involving some electric guitar which give some bite to the lazy river vocal delivery that confronts the consequences of the artist’s addictions, using them as fuel to move forward and rearrange his life.

“Beginner’s Skin” is a track built on the hope of redemption and the rebuilding of a life, the arrangement returning to the familiar acoustic stomping grounds set earlier as “Rogue Waves,” though spare and sparse, brings a bright note of hope as the artist sings through the difficulties of recovery. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is a poignant, emotional tale that finds the artist declaring his undying love against the protestations of his lover, his broken heart pleading for another chance, and is one of the album’s best tracks. It's honest and emotional, packing quite a punch, before “Looking for Home Down Hallways,” with its exploration of the collective human spirit and our searching ways, swoops in to close things out with the most creative arrangement on the record, guitars and percussion building together in unique patterns that give the track weight, ending on a high note.
Ted Brown has been to hell and back and has lived to tell about it and his listeners are the thankful recipients of that pain. Brown mines his past for inspiration and shares it, warts and all, with honesty and artistry, combining introspective lyricism together with solid, singer-songwriter tones that carry emotion and truth. An Unwide Road is a road worth walking with Brown, if even for a little while.

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