Album Review

Jamie Hartford - What About Yes

Jamie Hartford - What About Yes

Serviceable is one of those adjectives that I would imagine musicians loathe to see attached to their work; it's a word that wouldn't necessarily be taken as a slight until applied to artistry. A couple notches above pedestrian, a few below formidable, and saved for productions that, while technically proficient, still lack that intangible something. Jamie Hartford's debut, What About Yes, does come with a modicum of unfair expectation, one would guess. Dad just happens to be a musician named John, which carries sides both up (constantly surrounded by talented players and songwriters) and down (that whole thing about emerging from behind someone's shadow). But between some session work and a regular Wednesday night stint at Wolfy's in Nashville, Jamie has made a name for himself the past couple of years. His original compositions -- part blues shuffle, part roots-rock, with touches of country and jazz -- recall the work of John Hiatt or Ry Cooder. His band is comprised of solid, tight players. But much of this record seems lifeless, a result of a sameness in the material, the playing and the production. Nothing is unexpected, and nothing is left to chance. It starts off pretty promising with the rollicking revenge song, "Somebody's Gonna Pay". But "Hard, Hard World" and "Miss You" are both four-bar blues-rock workouts with predictable "place guitar solo here, knock off a harmonica solo there" inserts. And as for the harmonica, there's way too much of it on this record (e.g., the obtrusive blowing that mars the late-night instrumental album closer "Venus Fly Trap"). It takes up space that would have been better filled with more of Hartford's guitar work. Captured moments of soulful emotion can be found in the prettiness of "Good Things Happen (When You're Around)"; the hopelessness of Steve Goodman's "Trouble Will Find You"; and reassurance of "Tell You For The Last Time", in which Hartford finally cuts loose on the strings alongside some fiery interplay from co-writer Pat McLaughlin.