Zack Hyneman of Portland, Oregon is a co-founder of the Supernatural Beavers, that released their first album in 2020. He’s back with his debut solo album titled HYNEMAN, in which he wrote, played and sang everything himself. Hyneman calls this “a collection of songs written over a decade of serious songwriting. The content is primarily autobiographical: a musical portrait of my twenties. Most of these songs have been played at various open mics, but this is the first time they've been recorded professionally. Themes include love, coming of age, drinking, drugs, wandering, working an unfulfilling job, anger and a ballad about a great, great grandma of mine who was left in a basket on a doorstep when the circus came through town.”
Hyneman’s only genre listing is “folk” but I also found his songs to have a strong country bent as well. He further notes that he intended these songs to have minimal arrangements, “but they had a way of expanding in the studio.” Recording and production was by Gregg Williams at The Trench during late 2021, with mastering by Timothy Stollenwerk. Hyneman’s acoustic guitar of choice is a Breedlove Studio Dreadnaught, with his clean, full vocals recorded through a Heiserman H47 tube microphone.
Just to cut to the chase, I think Hyneman is a compelling singer/songwriter with a bright future. His songs have the intelligence, flair and humor of some of the genre’s leading lights. I won’t claim to have gotten everything I could from this album with just a few spins, but I know there’s tons of great material waiting to be discovered with future listenings.
“Dresden” is an excellent start. Hyneman’s audio feels open and airy, especially with his acoustic piano and roomy acoustic guitar. The instruments sound organic alongside each other, not just like tracks stacked up; they seem to be playing in the same space and interacting with each other. Not surprisingly (given the H47 microphone) Hyneman’s vocals sound the best of all the instruments, with a vocal chorus worthy of Brian Wilson. The overall feel is laid back, laconic, maybe a bit cynical and world-weary.
“San Francisco” is the first example of what I see as more of a country tune. “I never met a beer I couldn’t finish / before I met you.” I love Hyneman’s lyrical device of listing all the things the narrator could never do “before he met” the newest woman in his life. “The timing ain’t right / but honey, I like you a lot… if you kiss me, I’ll take you with me / every time I sing this song.”
“Vanessa” is more folky, with its picked acoustics and big harmony chorus vocals. Again, Hyneman’s lyrics have a way of putting you in a time and place like a fine novel, but with just a few words. “Sunrise, cigarettes and bloodshot eyes / the sinners with regrets but no disguise… we’re scared, drunk and tired but at least not alone.” The effect is similar to the songs of Freedy Johnston, though frankly Hyneman has a better voice!
“Mr. Future Workingstiff” reminded me of an old Ry Cooder work song, plodding along the prairie with great slide acoustic guitar. The drum beat is a little unsteady but feels authentic. Honestly, if I’d heard this song on a Warners LP from the late ‘70s in a bargain bin, it would have made perfect sense. The best thing I can say about “The Beast” is that I can easily imagine Johnny Cash doing a cover version.
“Rollin’” is a jaunty country amble, with the lyrical simplicity of a children’s sing-along. Hyneman notes that “the electric guitar is a 1997 Fender Stratocaster Lone Star; the piano is a 100+ year old Windsor Player originally delivered by wagon (the self-playing mechanism has since been disabled). ”The Ballad Of Minnie Sloan” is another Cash-worthy tune: a narrative story with a Sergio Leone soundtrack vibe, featuring harmonica and mariachi horns straight outta “Ring of Fire.”
“Fuck This Song” is the closest Hyneman comes to a novelty tune with continuous, humorous use of the F word, but he’s too good to throw away even a funny song. Past the laughs, this final track is just as compelling and moving as everything that’s come before. “I know I got some demons and I think they’re here to stay / ‘cos when I toke and smoke ‘em out they just come back some fucking day… until I’m high lying on my back with a guitar on my bed / I close my eyes and try to write something but it only comes out wrong / man, fuck this song.”
I have not mentioned every one of the ten songs on this album, but I think they’re all equally good and I highly recommend this album and artist to one and all!
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