Damon Aaron – Ballast

Damon Aaron

With Norah Jones’ success and ubiquity in recent years, it’s easy to undervalue singers who combine laid-back sounds with urban beats and an acoustic base. The café singer seems to have returned to great popularity, and some of these artists certainly sound formulaic and weak regarding concept generation. On his debut album, Ballast, Damon Aaron avoids meandering for the sake of hearing himself on record and delivers almost a dozen quietly passionate, lyrically interesting folk-pop anecdotes.

Ballast opens with the chilled-out instrumental “Intro.” Brief and sexy in a 70s style, the track sets the mood for light combinations of folk and funk, like “Road Map.” Aaron’s singing recalls Jamie Catto taking lead vocals on Faithless’ “Don’t Leave.” With his acoustic guitar and controlled backing vocals, Aaron creates a similar sense of uncertainty and mild desperation. “Freedom” is darker than most confessional R&B. “All I Need” showcases Aaron’s guitar echoes and effects expertise, and conjures up the sound of Seal at his most sincere and comfortable.

Aaron impressively combines soul and singer/songwriter folk music without diluting either style or creating a cheesy mishmash. “My Way Home” succeeds because of simple, slow instrumentation and dynamic, expressive singing. Aaron’s lyrics are equally appealing: “I’ll take my chances / With passing romances / Thank you for asking / But I’ll be fine / I’m easy to figure / Got my hand on the trigger / I’m taking no prisoners / So move out of the way.” This is classic college café music, mellow and frank. “In and Out” finds Aaron layering his sweetest soul singing over loops and bleeps.

“Over and Done With” is one of the gentler tracks on Ballast, and the subdued strings that accompany Aaron’s tempered crooning complement his reflective lyrics. As with “In and Out,” Aaron draws out of his audience smiles and sweet memories of Terence Trent D’Arby with his multidimensional, gorgeous singing on “Over and Done With.” Ballast closes with the beautifully assembled “Out in the Rain.” Aaron plays his guitar like a medieval troubadour stringing in the early 70s. A joint recording by Aaron and Josh Rouse could be an amazing listening experience.

Ballast is an impressive and consistently enjoyable debut album that benefits from Aaron’s charisma, diverse guitar playing, and production skills. The tracks never sound worn or too familiar. Aaron’s voice and guitar have featured on various recordings, perhaps most notably on Telefon Tel Aviv’s Map of What is Effortless, but with Ballast, it’s purely his show, and he doesn’t disappoint. The soulful down tempo folk music of Ballast is ideal for all seasons and many moods.