Our pick of this week's new releases is the latest from Jake Ewald's indie folk outfit, an album that instantly feels like a classic
Since Modern Baseball went on hiatus, Jake Ewald has carved out a path leading further and further from that band’s earnest Midwest emo. What he’s retained though, through each release as Slaughter Beach, Dog, is the detailed narrative gift that set his songs above so many peers, narratives that feel like a friend sat on the next barstool, telling you exactly how it all went down.
Ewald’s always been a skilled songwriter, but there’s a definite leap forwards with Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling. What started as a solo project now feels more like a band with the returning presence of Zack Robbins and Ian Farmer, but it’s more than that. It proves elusive right until the moment in ‘Summer Windows’ where Ewald namechecks Townes Van Zandt. Then the lightbulb clicks on.
Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling marks the point where Ewald enters the realm of the capital-S Singer/Songwriters – the kind that get filed as such in the more pedantic record stores. These 10 songs possess an effortlessness and gentle humanity to rival some of the greatest, none more so than the late greats of Townes himself and John Prine.
Prine had a gift for staring at a stranger and drawing their entire inner life in vivid detail, a kind of x-ray for humanity. That same warmth and compassion is woven into every line on Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling. The diner scene Ewald describes on the ‘Summer Windows’ has it in spades, as do the two lovers with their Mexican beer and Australian wine in the moving vignette ‘Bobcat Club’. The devastating ‘Henry’ practically bursts apart with it.
The instrumentation on Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is kept relatively simple: acoustic guitars, splashes of twanging electric, weeping lap steel, light and shade from pianos and synths. The tempos rarely rise above a gentle lope. Everything works together in the service of Ewald’s perceptive lyrics and simple melodies.
It’s hard to think of a more instantly feels familiar and comfortable album. There’s an individuality and charisma throughout that flies way beyond easy comparisons. Songs such as ‘Summer Windows’, ‘Engine’ and ‘Float Away’ suggest Ewald’s not just a student of the greats, but a songwriter well on his way to greatness.