What if you could change a rainy day into sunshine? With all the leaves shining bright, sparkling rain drops, clouds scudding across the sky? What talisman or magic thinking would allow for such a possibility? Sherman Downey’s “New Beautiful,” surely then, is a good place to start. Every song flush with the joy of new discovery; little stories overflowing happiness and delicate curios. Your day drifts by as neighbors wave hello, children tangle in the yard, faces new and old flicker across your mind. In his long awaited third album, Sherman Downey graces us with songs that, from the first to last, rest gentle like the morning dew and peaceful as an evening sunset.
Lushly orchestrated, punctuated with unique beat box rhythms and synth horns, the music swirls around lyrics of ordinary events somehow made fresh by Downey’s cheerful vocals: “In the morning she is dancing in the kitchen, to the music on the radio, with the windows open and the curtains wide, she’s singing every word she knows…” Downey begins the album with “Front Porch,” setting the mood and sensibility for all the songs to follow. Whether these songs are as personal as they seem or not, each sheds a simple light on everyday events, as if seen anew. “And you can find me on the front porch, sipping my tea, wondering if anyone is looking at me, everyday it’s the same old thing, there’s nothing much happening, soon I’m gonna pack my suitcase, and I’m gonna hit the road… little bird won’t you carry me? I’m off with sun everyday of the week and it hits me like a kiss on the cheek and rolls me like a stone.” From here on, Downey is off and running.
“The Sun in Your Eyes” continues, thematically, the study from Downey’s porch. The song obviously invites reference to his 2013 album, of the same name. Kids tussle out front, responsibilities call, but the pull of the road calls louder. Ennui’s lazy spell broken and the songs begin moving. “Romancer” has a soft shuffle going on and the piano riff harkens back to those great Hall and Oates, Philly soul sounds of yesteryear, yet somehow feel bright and current. Sherman wonders out loud that he could ever be considered a dancer, but clearly intends for you to do so.
In “Shiftwork,” one of the highlights of the album, the monotony of a working day gives way to the clarity of travel: “Every couple of weeks, I drive the highway along the coastline, just to get out of the stink… and I’ve been saving my money, I’ve been tucking it all away, and if I keep my head down, I think I’ll be okay, and maybe when I have enough, I’ll go, so if you change your mind, won’t you let me know?” The instrumental break takes on the shimmer of a Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) production, which underscores the nimble lightness on this album. Almost pop in feel, the lyrics and melody nevertheless keep our interest. This is Downey’s clever talent across the album, keeping our interest piqued as the story unfolds throughout the songs.
Making his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Sherman Downey has been gaining attention, awards and accolades since his second album, “The Sun In Your Eyes,” in 2013. Audiences certainly gravitate to his uplifting songs, videos and concert performances. “New Beautiful” continues to map new ground, employing fresh sounds and approaches to the material. This album has some very sweet moments and none of the songs disappoint. For newcomers to his music, this is an encouraging introduction. Those already familiar with his buoyant work will find further evidence of a songwriter coming into his powers and exploring exciting new territories and themes.
All songs written and composed by Sherman Downey.
All songs produced, engineered, and mixed by Daniel Ledwell at Echo Lake.
Photo Credit: Tom Cochrane