Take a dash of Wilco, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen with a side of country pop and bluegrass and you should have an idea of the music on ...Beneath Potomac Skies by Ken Francis Wenzel. Wenzel has a lot thing going for him on this release. The production is exceptional; he has an immediately attractive voice and he sure as heck knows how to write a song. Wenzel also tends to wear his influences on his sleeve and you can get a sense of where the song is going before he gets there. There isn’t any experimentation that deviates from typical pop structure that makes you think he will be reinventing a genre any time soon. The songs feel familiar and predictable yet you can still get enjoyment from them. It’s like a joke you have heard before and can anticipate the punch line before it happens but you still chuckle.
His album was really hit and miss when looking at the individual songs. Some of the songs felt like they were trying too hard to be accessible “single ready” mainstream hits while others seemed to gel better with his essence as an artist.
The album starts with “Potomac Skies” which is Americana rock 101. It felt like an alternative version of a song like “Summer of 69.” It’s certainly catchy and had such a distinct American rock feel. Wenzel continues with “Landing Lights” which is another solid song and at this point it felt like he was establishing a sound. The next three tracks build his foundation even further.
Once he gets to “(Let’s See) What Happens on the Highway” is when things start getting confusing. “(Let’s See) What Happens on the Highway” is straight up country commercial pop with cliché lyrics. The next song “Caving In” is a personal highlight. I loved the banjo and singing style. The problem is this country/bluegrass style song feels like it was randomly thrown into the mix. It sounds out of place compared to the previous six songs. As the album comes to a close he does revisit the upbeat country theme again.
A couple things stuck out to me about ...Beneath Potomac Skies. I kept feeling like Wenzel was trying a bit too hard to please an audience. He really did his homework and it shows. That being said I wish Wenzel took more chances instead of playing it safe on every song. The juxtaposition of different styles points to an artist who is still on a quest to find his own sound. It seems like Wenzel has a general idea of what he likes and wants to do but it seems as if he still needs to do a little digging in order to find out who he is as an artist.
All things considered ...Beneath Potomac Skies is a scattered album with a couple of real gems.
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