(5 / 5)
US singer songwriter Todd Kessler delivers an album that is up there with the best of em’ in the singer songwriter, roots and Americana genres.
He seeks to make sense of the past, while looking pensively into the future. Appropriately, “About Memory” finds Kessler going back to his roots, producing a timeless folk sound, with hints of alt rock and classic Americana.
Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Todd Kessler was always singing. He began playing the trumpet at nine years old, but by 12, he’d fallen in love with the guitar and began writing his own songs.
After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in music theory and composition, Kessler began work on his first LP, “We Are the Musicmakers”. The album was released in 2006 and led to a series of gigs across Chicago.
Shortly after, he formed a new band and teamed up with producer Greg Magers (Lupe Fiasco, Umphrees McGee, Matthew Santos) for his next two releases, “The Veronica EP” and “Boomerang”.
With a democratic songwriting process, Kessler and his band decided to work under a new name, Todd Kessler & The New Folk. In 2012, they released their first album, “Sea Fever”, produced by Manny Sanchez (Patrick Stump, Umphrees McGee).
The album’s release was supported with a lengthy residency at one of Chicago’s best known venues, Schubas Tavern, but Kessler missed part of the residency when he was chosen as part of Team Ceelo on NBC’s TV talent show, “The Voice”.
Gaining national exposure from “The Voice”, Todd Kessler & the New Folk began touring more, playing major festivals. Between 2013 and 2015 the band worked on new material and released two singles.
Then the New Folk agreed to a break, disbanding indefinitely to spend time with their families. Even with two young children, Kessler managed to write an impressive amount of new songs.
After the birth of his second son in 2015, Kessler’s songs took on a more nostalgic tone, confronting the range of emotions that come with fatherhood. The songs play like the soundtrack to the human condition, and, these are the songs that make up Kessler’s excellent new album, “About Memory”.
Recorded in Los Angeles at New Monkey Studio (made famous by Elliot Smith) and in Chicago, “About Memory” was produced by Marc Daniel Nelson (Fleetwood Mac, Colbie Caillat) and Ran Jackson (Katy Perry, Goo Goo Dolls).
Influenced by artists like Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Ryan Adams and David Gray, Kessler has evolved into the consummate storyteller. The opener “Only Love Is Real”, is beautiful.
Controlled and gentle vocals, a serene ambience and almost lullaby sensibilities. Falsetto adds value. “Old Fashioned Way”, has a bit more production, but the same calming, laid back vocals and dreamy vibe.
So far, not too far away from the wonderful JP Cooper’s style, perhaps less of a soul tip and more towards the folk flavour. Paul Simon’s influence evident on the second cut. Todd’s phrasing immaculate and innate.
The title cut “About Memory”, is a strong piece of the song writing craft, and some sweet and yearning pedal steel licks create a melancholic atmosphere. The ad-libbed backing vocals add value.
A real Fleetwood Mac tip on “The Things We Do For Love”, an uber-commercial track and very radio ready. Todd’s vocal possessing more urgency and aggression than the previous three cuts. Reese Richardson’s killer lead guitar licks are to die for and a tight fit for this style of track.
We go back to old school values where an album was to be heard in its entirety and in track order; not cherry picked and tracks isolated from the bunch. His voice is flawless and stands out from the crowd, the production values precise and unfussy. The songs allowed to breathe. The material is classy and really is five star quality.
“One More Note” takes my mind back to Mr Simon’s stuff. “The Letter” put me in mind of the late and great Gerry Rafferty. Another very strong piece of material. “Someday You’ll Be A Man”, is the most rambunctious track, with some shit kicking country/Americana.
The closer “Yellow Dress”, slows down the pace and kicks off with chilled Lennon-style lush piano and Todd’s soothing vocal, before some tear-jerking steel licks float in and out. A pretty end to a pretty special release.
I often think anything less than 10 tracks on an album, is short changing the buyer a tad. But, there’s also the other argument; when an album seemingly has a few fillers and if they were dropped, it’d be a perfect album.
Here, only eight tracks being offered is one or two short for me, but with all eight being superb pieces of work in all aspects, Todd is most certainly forgiven! One of the most pleasing and impressive singer songwriter albums to land on my desk for some considerable time.
…I’d have turned my chair for him as a coach on The Voice, that’s for sure!
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’