Justin Serrao has established a name for himself in South Africa. He opened up for such acts as Prime Circle, Parlotones, Albert Frost, Aking, Wrestlerish, Short Straw, Southern Gypsy Queen, Naming James, Wickhead and Shawn Phillips. He initially started playing in 2001 with a punk band “74%stupid.” Since then he has moved about as far away from punk as you could get. He initially formed Smash & Grab Hotspot and recently released his solo effort entitled Touching Toes Without Clothes in October. Serrao makes commercial-ready type music that could easily be alongside acts like Jack Johnson. I know not too promising right; luckily Serrao created an album that often veers from the clichés and yet other times he steps right into them. The songs here are sparse and are just guitar and vocals which is not a bad thing but you get the feeling Serrao would feel right at home playing around a camp fire with people who look like they might fit in a Gap commercial. Besides his mainstream tendencies I have to admit his guitar playing is pretty good and it is obvious that he is putting all his heart into his singing. At first listen you could dismiss his music as stereotypical singer/songwriter trying too hard to be popular. After I listened to a couple of songs though I felt there was an honesty that was seeping through that made the songs more forgiving then most songs of this genre.
Some songs like “Heart of Gold” have a good bluesy riff before giving way to a basic chord structure. The vocals are delivered with exuberance and you can close your eyes and probably imagine what Serrao’s facial expressions looked like in the studio because the recording sounded so good. Speaking of that there is one thing that has to be mentioned. Regardless of whether or not you are a fan of the singer/songwriter genre the recording itself here is stellar. The vocals especially were treated much better than most DIY efforts. They sat really well in the mix and I was able to hear everything clearly .So what are we left with? Justin Serrao is a gifted musician who will appeal to a certain audience. What he does, he does great. If you are into acts like Dashboard Confessional and Dave Matthews by all means this will appeal to you and it even has a bluesy side which I enjoyed but if you aren’t digging that type of music this will most likely not appeal to you. Give it a try.
Divide and Conquer is dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We review a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
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