Coming Up Short
Within the latest crop of rising musicians is the clique of tormented 20-somethings who shave the sides of their heads, sport neatly-drawn tattoos of esoteric counter-culture symbols on their necks, and try to dress like the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird. They are the ones with sinewy arms poking out of cuffed t-shirts, hiding behind two pounds of facial hair in the middle of July; one hand on their cigarette, the other on their guitar. When they sing, each of their voices has the same hint of mopiness built around a finely practiced Americana timbre, with their fingers flirting around a hollow progression of chords. The genre’s newest standout, Christian Lee Hutson, hints at a new, substantive direction with his debut record Yeah Okay, I Know, despite the various hiccups plaguing what might be a promising start.
He has ability, but little urgency; there is no hint of necessity, nothing to qualify that Yeah Okay, I Know needs to be heard. Behind its Kerouacian aims the album bites with a toothless smile, seeming to hope that its infrequent instances of inspiring lyricism might encourage a lion’s share of praise. Typical of the record are “Playing Dead” and “No Apologies, Please”, which stay comfortably within the blandness of country and folk. It is hard to figure out if Hutson is content with his formula or if he pines for something greater just out of his grasp, as there are songs (“Ghost to Coast”, “I Do Mean Well”) that glimmer with potential- though they largely seem unfinished and more like a wishful skeleton of guitar chords.
Fortunately, the record does eventually find a sort of footing with “Monster”, the album’s tender climax featuring a duet between Hutson and an unknown female talent. With a gradual melodic build “Monster” best understands how I Know wanted to desperately sound, ending the album with an unfortunate probing into what could have been. For all of his dour charm, Hutson could be doing a lot more with what he has, and with any luck he’ll figure it out by his second release.