Justin Trawick – Starting Over EP

Justin Trawick - Starting Over EP

Justin Trawick - Starting Over EP

Thanks in large part to the breakthrough successes of folk rockers like Jack Johnson and Kris Allen, the Internet now seems overrun with six-string strumming hacks who think their ticket to stardom is just a few coffeehouse stops away.  With a jones for classic headwear – fedoras haven’t seen this much action since the 1950’s – and a knack for penning three minute pop songs of the witty and playful variety, these songwriting hopefuls also tend to indulge their whims for gritty roots rock and freewheeling funkiness. 

It would be all too easy then to dismiss Justin Trawick, the latest addition to this saturated subgenre, on these same offenses.  An admitted fan of everything from the summery pop of Jason Mraz to the somber alt-country of Ryan Adams, Trawick is even known to sport the occasional flat cap in performance.  Though he possesses Mraz’s knack for lyrical spitfire and Jack Johnson’s penchant for irreverent summertime jams, Trawick is quickly emerging from the shadows of those chart topping giants.

The Washington, DC-based musician began turning heads a few years back when his growing fan base took notice of the unique musical fluency he possessed with diverging genres like pop, bluebrass, and hip hop.  A core trio (upright bass and drums in addition to Trawick’s vocals and guitar) supplemented with a rotating cast of ensemble musicians, Trawick has been showcasing his self-described “urban folk rock” around the Mid-Atlantic region since his debut album dropped back in 2007.  Now equipped with the limitless power of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, Trawick is looking to capitalize on the momentum he’s built up to this point with a 5-song EP that was inspired by a recent job loss and the subsequent decision to pursue music as a full-time career.  Thankfully (and perhaps miraculously), Starting Over doesn’t fall victim to the same machinations and bland whimsies of so many other acoustic guitar-wielding dudes who came before him. 

The leadoff track from the EP may be a tad off putting though, particularly if a tune like Mraz’s “Remedy” still causes you to cringe.  With super choppy rhythm guitar and anxious drumming, “Snow Angels” finds Trawick singing in a ragged tone about the good times spent with a former lover.  The song may be attempting to convey emotional distress, but with a shout along chorus (“Whoooaaaaaah!”) and some sprightly organ playing, it sounds better suited to hazy summer afternoons spent catching waves.

After the familiar territory of the opener, the next four tracks are a far more accurate depiction of the versatile songwriting that will hopefully garner Trawick some recognition on the national stage.  Delivered in a weary drawl, “French Fries And Gravy” is Trawick’s push to move on with a new life while still holding onto pieces of the past.  Over softly played drums and delicately plucked guitar, the song paints a humorous picture as it saunters along with lyrics like, “Sit back and talk about / startin’ all over / two cups of coffee / and kung fu Sudoku.”  With just a pinch more twang (and glossier production), the song could probably find airplay on modern country radio.  Love again takes center stage in “Untitled,” those this time the downtempo groove is tinged with melancholy notions instead of nostalgia.  When the bass and drums comes crashing in after the first minute, Trawick goes into Michael Stipe mode, echoing the R.E.M singer’s stream of consciousness delivery on “E-Bow The Letter.” 

The album’s final two tracks work well as a couplet, as they address similar sentiments and while also paying homage to older styles.  “Moving On” (by far, the EP’s best tune) is a swampy blues stomper with tambourine and a walking bass line.  There’s even a killer instrumental breakdown that features some harmonica and hand claps.  Starting Over closes out with its subdued title track, a bluegrass-influenced affair that puts Trawick’s soul searching vocals and earthy guitar playing in the spotlight.  “It’s not that easy / when you throw out the rule book,” he muses.  How very right he is.  But throwing out the rule book is also a lot more interesting.