Brad Duer said it best in his description of his album A Town Called Hope. “It's an album I wrote about struggling to hold on to a dead love." The Indiana native has put some tough times into an amazing collection of songs varied in style between sax-infused jazz rock, stripped ballads and funk. He’s been writing and performing since 2007 and I hope this work reaches the right people because I smell something good in the kitchen if you know what I mean.
Duer’s vocals are nothing less than beautifully emo, but they come from a different place than the usual cry me a river stories. As the album unfolds, you see a side to this guy that sheds all the light necessary for artful heartache to take center stage. I think of Dashboard Confessional at times when hearing his delivery, melodic choices, and sense of harmony. It can’t be said enough, A Town Called Hope is full of pleasing blends and satisfying instrumentation. Resolves are spot on, solos are damn close, and it all makes sense. Focused intention is such an underrated premise for albums. I appreciate it when artists make a claim with sound, unified in tone and message. That’s what we have here and it deserves some applause.
“Boy, I Feel Alive” is a romp-y bar jam with shades of alternative and indie. The treble gets a downslide in the beginning, but kicks it up before the verse breaks. Not quite as long as Fastball’s “The Way.” Still surprised Fastball got away with dragging that tinniness as long as they did and still landed a hit. There is a somewhat oddly met rhythm change midway through Duer’s song, but once it takes hold it changes the shape of the song and deepens the mood for the listener. I’d say no harm no foul. The first real painful setting comes forth on “Tuesday Nights.” It’s not as intimate as Duer is capable of, but he’s holding back yet, the album is still young. The snare flutters and the clave clicks atmospherically as cymbals wash into the stormy waters of a raging heart, fighting alongside conflicting relationships – to end it, to love in vain, to lose respect, to find new love. That is the stuff of songwriting gold.
Duer puts his hip-hop admiration to use on “Night After Night.” The rapping is intelligent and that upper harmony in the chorus grabs the ear like a confident lover and leaves you wanting more. Almost as much as the keyboard line, an attractively composed hook built to haunt and yet excite. Now, there are songs that you can tell are going to be good within a few seconds and “Recluse” fits the bill. My expectations were beyond met, that acoustic outlining, the bass stinging up and down with high register sadness, percussion spare but perfect. This song benefits so much from the freedom of instrumentation, less Duer the better really. He sets the mood and the music pulls the heartstrings. But, Duer knew better than to close on a downer, so “Shame On Us Both” comes along and snaps you back into sunshine and some good vibes. The sax is back and slinging some soulful lines over bright funk. It’s a great closer and shows us that moving on can be the best policy.
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