Recorded music, by the time a music fan like me hears it, has usually been through multiple iterations, second-guessing, polishing, a few live performances, and three waves of fan outcry that new music is taking far too long. So it’s fun to get hold of the results of a project like Write By The Sea: Volume 1, where a bunch of musicians wrote an album over a long weekend — while the production is done by professionals, the impetus of the songs themselves is much closer to “I’ve got a guitar, you’ve got a guitar, we should write a song, let’s see what happens!”
The album benefits ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure) and features an all-star and stylistically eclectic brigade of songwriters, musicians, and producers, including David Borné, Eric Donnelly, Keaton Simons, Ben Jackson, Brian Fechino, Patrick Thornton, Nick Fradiani, Jeff Beres, Todd Wright, and Terri B!
Disclaimer: I’m giving credits the way they appear on Bandcamp.
The album as a whole is a fun romp through fusion styles and unlikely songwriter combinations, with multiple detours to make you swoon and one to make you weep.
A Little Bit Different
David Borné, feat Eric Donnelly
From the first line — tried to beat the storm out of town — this bluesy Americana meditation on trouble, trouble, and more trouble playfully reveals its inspiration in the Write By The Sea event’s evacuation to Alabama to avoid Hurricane Michael. It then splashes through an extraordinary range of water metaphors and has an entire verse about fish. Just to watch songwriters go nuts with metaphors, it’s worth a listen.
Nick Fradiani, feat. Todd Wright
The theme to Greatest American Hero meets Tom Petty, in an ode to Nick’s famous tendency to lose everything. It’s insanely catchy — the rhyme scheme in the verses is delightful, and the chorus is a sing-along anthem for the easily confused. My wildest dreams include an acoustic mash-up of this with Rachael Sage’s “Spark” — melding the two would give an entire life philosophy that’d be immensely adventurous to follow.
Bound to Get Better
David Borné, feat Keaton Simons
Pedal steel! Toes a-tappin’! The weather report is back, with “it’s gettin’ wetter, ’cause we can’t quench our thirst” as a particularly good multi-layered metaphor. This country-soul track is the distillation of a thousand guys with guitars on a thousand creaky front porches on a rainy day between Memphis and Nashville.
Hozier went back to the 1950s, put on a sparkling blazer, and wrote your prom’s big slow-dance song. It’s got sweet soul stylings, interludes where the band seems to have been thinking punk, big romantic moments, and extended metaphors that veer between the sacred and the profane.
David Borné, feat Todd Wright
“I’ll always miss the way you leave” is such a classic country-style line. As a country lament for dating a Manic Pixie Dream Girl with her own horse, it’s got some lovely modern western movie feel, though “so young, so wild, so free” doesn’t fit tumbleweeds being the mature part of the plant. (Here’s where songwriters throw wadded up paper at me for fact-checking metaphors.)
Eric Donnelly, feat David Borné & Keaton Simons
Pickin’ right on the lake edge about being at the lake edge. This bit of Americana (with a long psychedelic bridge, what?) demonstrates how completely adorable and relatable a well-constructed song can be with no metaphors at all. The lyrics are absolutely literal about the writing sitch, and the listener transforms it into a metaphor for experiences with a similar emotional impact.
Terri B! & Keaton Simons
Romantic R&B with a feel centered like Aretha Franklin covering Dionne Warwick (sweet slice-of-life lyrics, vocals with a sophisticated edge). Put down your coffee and do a foxtrot with your beloved around the kitchen.
Terri B!, feat Eric Donnelly
The melding of Americana and R&B/soul makes it a contender for my favorite track because it’s just so cool to try that and get away with it. Lyrically, this one is the triumph of hope over experience. This is the song where you put it at the end of the show, bring on the celebrity guest vocalist, everyone sings along and claps and cries, and by the end, people are hugging strangers and starting social movements.
State I’m In
Plaintive romantic soft pop, where “the state I’m in” that the POV needs to be taken home from may be a literal state. It’s the distillation of late night in a hotel in Ohio on the fourth week of a six-week tour.
All Your Might
Synch this over a montage on a Hallmark Channel movie and buy stock in Kleenex. The electro-pop instrumentation is a surprise. Nick’s tone gives the lyrics a vulnerability and urgency that would be ruined by total smoothness. This one is more than the sum of its parts — not every rhyme is perfectly graceful, but holy heck, the song as a whole hits some fundamental human vein about fear and hope and wanting to be seen as lovable.
Mind Off Of Me
Sexy electronic R&B that’ll have you doing the tango hustle with verve that Travolta would envy. The groove is grabbing enough that it’s easy to lose track of how intricate the lyrics are. This is your neighborhood rapper’s cool aunt stepping up to show you how music is done.
The Way It Is
Nick Fradiani, feat Keaton Simons & Terri B!
One of the delights of this record is getting songwriters experimenting with genres. None of these three are “country,” and they seem to have created a country-pop song. The strength of this song is its vulnerability — it has some overlap with Stephen Kellogg’s “Prayers” in the “get up, keep going” theme but from a less weathered, more midst-of-the-struggle perspective.