Australian Andy Gorwell’s debut release, Uprooted, is a tepid, workmanlike foray into American roots music. On it, Gorwell and his backing band plod studiously through eight Gorwell-penned originals and one Rolling Stones cover.
You can hear them trying to please, to make “authentic” sounding country-rock on the record. Gorwell sings in an earnestly Texas-tinged, scruffy tenor clearly enough for the listener to hear every word he’s singing. The backing band plays with a studiously generic twang, with requisite smoky harmonica, bristly acoustic guitar strumming, and a peppy rhythm section. The standout performer, pedal steel guitarist Ed Bates, plays his instrument deftly, wistfully invoking cattle drives and Texas hoedowns. Additionally, the melodies and arrangements fall safely within country and country-rock. All together, Gorwell and the band sound like they could put together some loving covers in front of an audience. And, as they demonstrate in their tribute to the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Gorwell and company follow the tune with reverence. Still, this disc fails to satisfy for two reasons: cliched music and hackneyed lyrics.
Gorwell’s melodies and arrangements orbit all too closely around music that has been recorded before. These tunes could be considered “almost covers.” Most notably, the melodies for the verses in “Diamonds” sound just like the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” I thought I was imagining it but then I tried singing the lyrics to “Dead Flowers” during “Diamonds” and it fit like hand in glove. The other Gorwell originals don’t come out as immediately recognizable, but musically, the monster truck tread marks of previous artists coat these songs with a thick layer of asphalt.
Lyrically, Gorwell keeps within a narrow, overused lexicon of a stereotypical white, rural Sunbelt America. His words, filled to the trite brim with trains, truck drivers, whiskey, honky tonk men, and worn out rhymes, hurt these songs much more than his melodies. His moldy portrayals of America’s rustic, country roots sound callow, unbelievable, and even a little insulting. In “Diesel,” he reflects on the life of his “truck-driving” grandfather. If his grandfather really trucked for a living, you couldn’t tell by this song. “Diesel” is theoretically a story song, but all the listener comes away with is a vague image of someone who dropped out of school to drive a truck. In “Old Friend the Blues,” his lyrics are so contrived that he sounds like he’s got trouble singing and keeping a world-weary tone at the same time. He might even be giggling a bit when he sings, “So you say you want to be a honky-tonk star / singing Hank Williams songs in smoky bars.” I certainly would.
Within his kitschy lyrical watercolors, his wording choices lack any ingenuity or distinction. His lyrics sound like they’ve been cribbed from other songs even more brazenly than his melodies. In “Anticipating,” he’s “waiting and anticipating all his life.” OK, hands in the air for all of you haven’t heard those strung together for a quick and easy rhyme. Anyone?
Andy Gorwell has got country in his veins
but he just needs to get on one them planes
and hop over to the US of A
and learn himself some more songs to play.
But that won’t change much. Gorwell would be better served if he took a look around his neck of the woods and wrote from his own experience instead of everyone else’s. Or, at the very least, he might want to pick up a rhyming dictionary.