These days who needs a music agent when you can start a Kickstarter campaign to fund your music project – that’s exactly what Carson Dowhan did in late 2017 to help him record his first full-length debut album Only the Moon. No one genre can describe the album but Dowhan dips into acoustic rhythms, indie-rock and progressive folk. Some songs are upbeat with expressive lyrics reminiscent of Ed Sheeran and Jason Mraz. The songs tap into themes of cluelessness and coming of age. As his first effort starts to gain ground, particularly in East Bay California, Dowhan has also begun a career as a student at Oberlin College in Ohio where he is pursuing a self-crafted songwriting studies degree.
The opener “Nightstand” is a deeply personal song about trying to figure things out in one’s life. A lovely addition of violin by Lauren Goldsamt can be heard here. Dowhan asks in the second person as if addressing the listener – “What are you needing / What do you believe in” – but he also writes in the first person at the song’s beginning which works well in a song, however, take it from me, this formula doesn’t fly as a non-fiction writer. The song’s style has a folk pop flavor. “No Way” has a catchy hip beat that rocks with bright guitars, vocal harmonies and a classy guitar solo. The lyrics seem more subjective as Dowhan sings about friends who say crazy things and we often “believe all the shit they said” – and who can say that hasn’t happened to them ever?
“Paper Planes” begins with a nice full acoustic rhythm and an added vocal track layered so Dowhan’s voice sounds richer here. I really loved this song for its arrangement, additional piano by Becket Dowhan and guitar and how the breaks between verses bring an openness within the words. Overall, this is a gorgeous sounding song and one not to be missed. I couldn’t help but over think if paper planes were a metaphor for something, or if Dowhan was writing about the childhood fascination with making paper planes. “Day by Day” starts with a swinging fast rhythm on acoustic, added drums and again, beautiful violin accompaniment by Goldsamt. Lyrically, Dowhan writes of being at a younger age, perhaps – “She said no I cannot leave you unattended” as if thinking back to his childhood days, but then in the first line, “I’m getting tired of being told no” could apply to wanting to break out of your parents’ home. Nice juxtaposition.
“On Yellow” starts off slow with a lonely sounding guitar inside some sad, soulful lyrics. The addition of synths from Drew Smith and clarinetist Joe Lugten are absolutely beautiful – check this one out, too. “To You” begins with happy, bouncing guitar picking and continues on this way coupled with some terrifically tender words about love and being in love – that subject never gets old and who knows, this song could very well stand the test of time. “Only the Moon” is another brilliant number that could easily get this young talented songwriter noticed – in my opinion, yes, Dowhan should get his college degree but don’t quit writing songs like this! Very well done.
“Tipsy” is another tune with just acoustic and vocal as the main instrumental with additional backing vocals and violin rounding out the sound. Lyrically, the words read like you’re on the verge of waiting for something big to happen or a break-up song – “I was the one that loved you / and not him.” “I’m Still Standing” has a bright, hopeful melody centered on lyrics that could be anybody’s guess – a family dispute, a coming of age time, leaving someone you deeply love behind? In any case, I thought it was a good ending to overall consistent album.
Only the Moon connects with us all as listeners because we each have our own coming of age story, which Dowhan seemed to tap into mostly. There are some real shining moments that he should hang onto if ever he performs live on the road. There were some times when technically the sound could have been better mixed or recorded differently because some instruments didn’t come through strong enough. But even so, the content of the lyrics and wonderful melodies far outweighed any of that.
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