Native born Canadian and multi-instrumentalist Adrian West describes his second album The Human Touch as “original acoustic rock that sounds like Paul Simon collaborating with Talking Heads with Dave Matthews playing cowbell.” His band as a whole, featuring several multi-talented musicians, help out on vocal harmonies, guitar, bass, flute, trumpet, clarinet and harmonica – while West plays a mean electric violin, bass, drums, various guitars, sometimes sax or keys, and a bit of live "looping.” During the seven years between his debut and his follow up, West went down a number of “intellectual rabbit holes” which show up in the album’s songs. He became interested in what scientists call abiogenesis – the study of how life began. What he learned through his extensive studies, changed his outlook on life. He also became interested in social justice issues, police brutality, climate change, discrimination and the always tried-and-true, never-gets-old themes of unrequited love and break-ups.
“There There Now” begins the record with a light, contemporary beat and yeah, this Paul Simon-esque vibe, and a vocal style that’s David Byrne, part one of those singers from Hothouse Flowers (I forget which one). I would even say I hear a style that’s classic Trip Shakespeare somewhere in this opener. A refreshing sound overall. On “Close Your Eyes” West sounds uncannily like a young Leonard Cohen, it’s kind of freaky! The beat and style is cool and groovy in a ‘60s Doors kind of way. “Senses” features a folky, organic style and lyrics that gives gratitude to one’s sense – “And I owe it all to my senses / To feel all I can in a day… ‘cuz one day they’re gonna fade.”
The album’s titled “The Human Touch” sounds like a cross between John Denver and Cat Stevens, and perhaps several other influential folk icons, but with the modern sensibilities of a James Blunt or Ed Sheeran. “Safe Streets” is a short funk-pop number with lyrics that addresses what happens to “dirty little hucksters” that deal crack behind dumpsters. “In My Heart” is a slower tune with a very sweet melody with a nice addition of the harmonica, and heartfelt lyrics – phew! – I mean really, songs like this don’t get much better. “The Dry Spell” has a nice, rustic folk style. The lyrics read both universally, even metaphorically in some spots, but I can imagine they’re also very personal for West. The trumpet in the song was a welcome choice.
As someone who adores instrumentals of almost any kind, I was pleasantly surprised by “Wallbanger.” If West would make an entire album of just this type of music, I would be the first to listen to it. It’s very original and fresh, not to mention funky, and sounds like nothing else on the album – perhaps it was the electric violin that drew me in. “Random Serenade” features an indie-pop style part way in, and then shifts into a swaying beat for a few measures after. Lyrically, West sings about his observations concerning the origins of life and that it’s just acts of random serenades happening across space and time. The addition of a piano was great to hear.
The last tune is called “DIY Song” and here, West reaches into his folkish, singer-songwriter bag. The flute, clarinet and other instruments really made this number a memorable moment. Lyrics that ease tensions and invite the listener to “let this sweet melody swing you around” interestingly reminded me of Harry Chapin’s “Remember When the Music.” Although the two song’s styles are different, West’s genuine innocence was not lost on me. There are a lot of layers, textures and rhythms on The Human Touch, too many to categorize into any one style. But if you like variety in music with songs about themes that are of huge importance these days, I would suggest checking out Adrian West.
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