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Friday, March 23, 2012

Seth Walker prepares 'Time Can Change' album


Time Can Change, due out June 19, embraces a stripped-down approach.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the three years since his last album, Seth Walker moved to Nashville from Austin, wrote songs with friends new and old, and played many, many shows. And just like most people, he thought about life, about love, and about the changes you experience if you move away (both geographically and philosophically) from those people and places you know so well to try your hand at something new. His latest recording, Time Can Change (out June 19, 2012 on Roe Records, distributed by RED Distribution), is a culmination of these experiences — the sound of an artist moving beyond his comfort zone and challenging himself to walk new creative ground.

“The album is a snapshot of movement in my musical journey of sorts,” states Walker. “A culmination of the continuing search for a way to write, sing and record in a new way.”

Change isn’t the order of the day when you grow up slow. Seth’s childhood in rural North Carolina was spent largely on a two-family commune, with music as the backdrop to an unrushed way of life lived outside the city limits. Both his parents were classically trained musicians: his mom a talented violinist, his father an accomplished string player. Music was an integral part of each day: the soundtrack could run from Willie Nelson to J.S. Bach and everything between. Seth was exposed to, and subsequently absorbed, a sonically rich expression of life with all its inherent joy and pain. Although he started sawing on a cello by the age of three, it was the guitar that would ultimately be his true love. A musically inclined uncle introduced Seth to the blues, and in those raw, honest songs was the inspiration to begin trusting his own voice and his desire to express himself.

Upon moving to Austin, Texas in his early 20s, Walker recorded his first album in 1997. By the time he released his eponymous fifth LP in 2008, he had developed into an accomplished guitarist and an even better singer, distilling the soul of Ray Charles, the Southern boy roots charm of Delbert McClinton, and an uptown blues turn of phrase (à la Percy Mayfield) into his own distinct voice.

Seth also began to write with other musicians, an endeavor that led to a fruitful collaboration with Gary Nicholson, a prolific songwriter and record producer based in Nashville. The two co-wrote most of the songs on Leap of Faith, with Gary also onboard as producer. Released in 2009, Leap of Faith was Seth’s most accomplished album to date, successfully weaving together a diverse blend of influences and styles. As Geoffrey Himes wrote for Nashville Scene, it was “one of the year’s more interesting Americana albums, because its notion of roots music drew not just from the country-folk tradition but from blues and R&B as well.” Leap of Faith was in the Top 10 of the Americana charts for nine weeks and received praise from No Depression and Blues Revue, among others.

Self-produced and unequivocally personal, Time Can Change is a distinct departure from its more polished predecessor. While fans will recognize the familiar rich tenor and bluesy guitar work, the new album trades the studio sophistication of Leap of Faith for a grittier sound and more intimate approach to songwriting.

“I never know what will be on the other side of a song or a session, but I sure do like what I have found in the corners of this album: a stripped down, intimate version of what I am as an artist at this point in my life,” says Walker.

Largely financed by Seth’s generous fans through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, the album represents a rebirth of sorts, foregoing complex production techniques in order to more clearly focus on the song and performance at hand. The bluesy “Love Is Through With Me” sets the tone, featuring Steve Mackey’s supple bass playing and Derrek Phillips’ spare percussion. Along with Seth’s acoustic guitar groove, this configuration is at the core of the album’s warm, loose vibe. “Wait a Minute” captures the optimism and possibility of new love — a breezy, engaging song with Kevin McKendree’s tasteful organ work and playful background vocals courtesy of the McCrary Sisters. With all the makings of a classic soul ballad, “In the Meantime” is a plea for a temporary stay to the inevitable heartache of incompatible love. And with Nicholson back in the co-writer chair, the rollicking, light-hearted “More Days Like This,” with its catchy refrain, is an instant crowd pleaser.

“This is the purest, most honest recording I have ever done as a singer. I just sang and played,” maintains Seth. “Time can definitely change, and this album is a case in point for me.”

In addition to extensive national touring, Seth performed at last year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival and provided tour support for Raul Malo and the Wood Brothers. With a bluesman’s respect for roots and tradition, coupled with an appreciation for — and successful melding of — contemporary songwriting, Seth is one of a handful of artists who incorporate a wide range of styles with warmth and grace. Perhaps Country Standard Time said it best: “If you subscribe to the Big Tent theory of Americana, then Seth Walker — with his blend of blues, gospel, pop, R&B, rock, and a dash country — just might be your poster boy.”

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