Reviews

Someone Else's Deja Vu

Author: derek
07/10/2008 | Weheartmusic.com | www.weheartmusic.com | Album Review
After more than three years' silence, Omaha-based prog-pop "band" Son, Ambulance has returned with a pretty new album of introverted Americana, Someone Else's Déjà Vu, on indie titan Saddle Creek Records.

Though many collaborators have come and gone over the seven-year course of Son Ambulance's career, songwriter Jeff Knapp has always been the heart of the band, and on this, his third album, it appears he has finally hit his stride. Previous albums, 2001's Euphemystic and 2004's untitled "Key," have sounded rather scattershot, as though Knapp and friends were trying out a wide variety of musical styles and forms to see which ones supported Knapp's lyrics and soft, clear voice the best. Fortunately, with Someone Else's Déjà Vu, Son Ambulance has firmly rooted itself in classic Midwestern "roots music" with just a touch of progressive rock that gives the album a pleasant, but still somewhat challenging, sort of Jayhawks-meet-Kansas feel.

Though Knapp's orchestration can be rather adventurous (such as on album opener "Girl In New York," which marries a bossa-nova beat to a chunky acoustic guitar strumming and a quirky whistle-and-drumsolo breakdown), at the heart of every track is a great melody delivering great lyrics with a distinct late-'60s feel. If you tossed John Prine's classic folk and Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd's psychedelic instrumentation into a blender, you'd poor forth the new, stabilized sound of Son Ambulance. Though "Legend of Lizeth" combines bouncy, Beatles-flavored hooks, a lovely five-part vocal interlude, and drifty, gorgeous instrumental interludes featuring spacey guitars that would make David Gilmour proud in various combinations, the song's disparate elements are all tied together with Jeff Knapp's narrative vocals, making for an adventurous and multi-layered song that is nonetheless as easy to follow as any folk song. "Walk Alone" is a gentle, mournful song whose roots are firmly planted in Americana but whose branches unfurl into ethereal pads and synths that drift overhead like auroras. "Love Her" is a perfect ballad that recalls the best of John Mellencamp and label-mates Bright Eyes, but wouldn't sound out of place playing on the jukebox in an old, beaten-down honkytonk where love-haunted losers come to drink away their sorrows.

That's the greatest appeal of this album: though styles and structures swirl about, they are all firmly grounded in good old-fashioned songwriting in the same way that Kansas managed to turn progressive rock's weirdo time-signature changes and complicated instrumentation into memorable American anthems like "Carry On, Wayward Son." Though Son Ambulance's earlier works sounded like collections of wildly-different songs--hell, they sounded more like compilations of different artists' works rather than the output of one particular group--Someone Else's Déjà Vu is a centered, down-to-earth album that uses a variegated pallet of musical elements to paint heartfelt songs that have all the emotion and "everyman" appeal of The Eagles or Bruce Springsteen. In fact, I think it's safe to say that Jeff Knapp has found himself. And listening to his music, you'll probably feel as though you've found yourself, as well, somewhere in his lyrics. I'm pretty sure every reader of this review will nod solemnly to the opening words of "Walk Alone": "When you walk alone / It's a long road / A winding boulevard / To heal a broken heart / When you walk alone."

Oh, one final note before I let you go. Someone Else's Déjà Vu is the perfect name for this album. Rarely do I find albums whose titles accurately reflect or tell the listener something about the album's content--but Someone Else's Déjà Vu sure does. Knapp's haunted voice and lyrics will make you feel as though you're reliving events in your own life through someone else's eyes, which is the greatest trick a songwriter can pull off, because that means he or she has hit on those universal truths or experiences that bind certain memories to certain songs.

Son Ambulance has a plethora of live dates coming up, mostly in the midwest, so do check them out if they come to your neck of the woods!
Someone Else's Deja Vu

Someone Else's Deja Vu

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Someone Else's Deja Vu

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