Ed Romanoff’s debut album shows all the signs of being a long time in the gestation, with ten original songs that dig deep in their search for truth. Along the way to becoming a recording artist in his own right Ed has made good friends of Mary Gauthier, Josh Ritter and Crit Harmon (who produced this record), all good people to have around whilst finding your feet as a singer-songwriter in the Americana mould.
Between Ed’s sonorous baritone voice and arrangements that feature strings and horns in carefully layered style, this whole record demands you to stop and pay attention, because this is weighty stuff. The lightest that Ed gets is on the humorously affectionate I Must Have Done Something Right where he recalls all the terrible things he’s done to his best mate, who somehow remains his best mate despite it all. There are some good lines in here which ring very true (“that night I slept with your sister/You know I meant to keep that a secret”); it’s typical of Ed’s writing on this record that he seeks out the things that it hurts to drag out into the light of day – he’s not going to be satisfied with anything that’s merely anodyne.
From that point we kind of circle down through human experience, from the things that sneak up on you and knock you sideways (Curveball), through unrequited love (Breakfast for one on the 5th of July) to the truly bleak tales of a man who disappeared one winter’s day (Lady Luck) and the couple making out in a car, shot seemingly at random by a man going by (Two Yellow Roses). He survived, she didn’t. Along the way he tackles his own confused identity, having discovered as an adult that the man who brought him up was not his biological father. If all of these songs are tales from his own life, then I feel the man could do with some lucky breaks, but his tone is contemplative and gentle; where he could be bitter and angry he opts instead for a spirit of enquiry, trying to figure out why life turns out the way it does. In adopting this stance he enables us to weave our own experiences and problems into his material – he’s a man to listen to when you’re feeling a bit embattled. If you’re looking for comparisons, I’d suggest a midpoint between Richmond Fontaine and John Prine.
The one thing I absolutely don’t get here is his funereally-paced take on the old country classic, I Fall to Pieces. His voice seems even lower here, whilst the big echo on the bass string and lap steel as they sketch the outline of the melody seems like some sort of “concept” for the song that just doesn’t work for me. He sounds artful, not lovelorn, and I don’t think it does this otherwise fine debut album any favours at all. Still, the man is picking up awards for his songwriting so there’s a good chance that Ed Romanoff will be making waves in the Americana world.
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