Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review: Richie James Follin - Battle (* * * 1/2)

Best known for leading indie rock band Willowz and his connection with Michael Gondry, Richie James Follin now strikes out on his own with his solo debut, Battle, a bluesy folk rock album. The music was written, according to his bio, on a train ride from New York to Los Angeles, while the lyrics were inspired partly by stories his Aunt told him about his recently deceased Uncle's experiences during World War II. The recording was done primarily during a 4th of July barbecue at collaborator/producer Dan Horne's house, where a host of musicians showed up to play various parts on the album, providing drums, bass, guitar, piano, mandolin and more to give Battle a full band sound.

The history of the album plays well into the songs themselves, with each tune feeling weathered and worn, twelve odes to classic southern rock music that, for the most part, capture the spirit of the genre. Follin's world-weary tenor voice rises and falls jaggedly over mournful pedal steel and jangly electric guitar lines with a sincerity that gives some real personality to the music, though some of the material might feel a little too familiar. The songs drift from burning country rock tunes to more thoughtful, introspective ballads. Songs like the soulful, upbeat "Prize" and the classic rocker "Calling" are fast and fun, channeling the style of 60's rock 'n' roll in a a raw, immediate way. The harder-hitting material is consistently great and keeps Battle alive and kicking through some of the less interesting selections.

The more deliberate, bluesy folk numbers are a bit hit and miss, but there really aren't any true misfires here, just not quite enough variation. "Circle," "Host," and "Rose" are all decent tunes, but they all sound similar enough that by your second time through the record, you're likely to have a tough time remembering which was which. The gritty, haunting "Colt" and the bright, organ-heavy "Reason" are, on the other hand, much more expressive and unique, adding some much-needed depth of style to the album. Overall, the 36 minutes of Battle make for an enjoyable album that features solid production and talented execution, offering a pleasant trip that more than justifies Follin's time and energy spent.