Tim Howard has been recording as Soltero since 2001. He is based now in Brooklyn after stints in Boston, Philadelphia and North Carolina. Evoking Silver Jews, Handsome Family and the Kinks, Western Medicine Blues is described as “an album of loose, gallows-humor pop songs.” Initially recorded on a Portastudio four-track at home, Howard took the songs into ProTools for further work, striking a fine balance between bedroom-recorded immediacy and the crisp richness of computer-fidelity tracking. Almost all self-recorded, Western Medicine Blues emerged as a catharsis and an escape from health problems members of his family were suffering, informing the thematic content of the record.
The album opens with the title track “Western Medicine Blues” a mid-tempo motorik beat with a debt to Tom Waits. The tight, hollow bass guitar and restrained guitars form an engine that drives the expansive track with skittery piano and string drones. Howard’s layered vocals bring a lot of diversity, at turns quietly resigned a la Chet Baker and ripping into forceful wordless harmonies. It definitely sets the tone for the record, off-kilter and somewhat mournful but not without a groove.
Lots of the record uses older textures to bring depth to the arrangements. A Kinks-y lead guitar and throwback organ give muted power-pop jam “I Want to Have a Baby” a bit of a retro sheen, while “True Indication” uses a chunky baritone solo to lead into a dusty-canyon vibe. “Blue Island” has a watery organ straight out of the ‘60s samba craze. These touches add a variety to the mix that’s nice, especially as Howard’s songwriting—though not repetitive—tends to sit in a Pavement-like indie-rock pocket.
There are spots where things tighten up emotionally, most particularly “Wisterians.” A late-album track anchored by a dry acoustic guitar. Howard sings quietly in a low register, telling the story of getting married one summer and the way life introduces distance between people. With just a bit of ambient instrumentation, “Wisterians” takes the themes, both lyrical and musical, that the record hints at and drags them to the foreground. It’s an arresting moment, driving home the struggle Howard alchemized to create the album.
“Island to Island” is the closing track, led with a beach-y tremolo guitar and supported with an arrangement somewhere between country-western and Beach Boys sparkle. With a long fiddle section halfway, followed by twinkling piano unrooted from the tempo, Howard gently sings, “I never knew / My place in this world.” Drifting out to sea, away from the tumult and strife, Western Medicine Blues ends by reaffirming its own existence—a refuge from the crazy world. Take some time out for this one; it’s a sweet, gentle place to go when the noise of life gets out of hand.
We are 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 critique a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook