American Exotic Vol. 1

Casey Frazier

Independent release, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For three years now I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe Casey Frazier’s music. “Americana” would be the easiest label to slap on it, but barely scratches the surface. Yes, there are distinctly Western touches: lyrics mentioning horses and leather boots, set to dusty acoustic and steel guitars; but there are also deep grooves, the occasional fat horn section, and Frazier’s rich, soulful voice. And his songs are personal ones—whether writing about a character or about his own life, he digs deeper than most. It’s a stew, really, swirling together flavorings of country, soul, folk, rock, and singer-songwriter into a fresh genre, one which he has now given a sublimely perceptive name: American exotic.

American Exotic Vol. 1 feels like a fairly ambitious title, of course, but it only takes a single listen to the latest album from Monterey, California-area troubadour Frazier to appreciate how on-the-nose this description is, as Frazier effortlessly melds genres into a striking, unusual concoction all his own.

Opener “In My Good Time” manifests all of the above in just its first 90 seconds, moving from a moody, ambient overture into a gentle opening verse that matches a loping country lilt on the guitars with warm keyboard and horn accents. The song steadily builds, blossoming by the third verse into a simultaneously sweet and expansive anthem to domesticity, a relatively new concern for songwriter Frazier, but an appropriate one now that he’s married with a young son: “Momma’s got a car in the driveway / It may not be a motorcycle / But I can learn to love what I can’t change.”

Next up, “Small” opens with a sense of foreboding, spooky solo guitar leading up to this dark declaration: “Somebody’s been drinkin’ my coffee / Somebody’s been sleepin’ in my bed… Drive fast on the highway just to see when you get home.” The song shifts moods sharply at the verses as the narrator tries to talk himself out of his own paranoia: “Been thinkin’ a lot about the change in the weather / Been tryin’ not to think at all / Seems to me things are still gettin’ better / Still kissin’ in cars.” It’s an eerie, provocative, novelistic journey through a troubled mind.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A sharp slide-and-electric country hook anchors “Lucky That Way,” an upbeat lament about an unlucky soul who keeps trying and not quite getting there, but remains philosophical about it. Piano, steel and spare single guitar chords frame the airy arrangement of this very catchy tune.

Frazier veers into Springsteen territory on “Lifetime,” though maybe not the Springsteen you’d expect; it’s a spacious, contemplative, nostalgic, thinking-about-the-pieces-of-your-life number that’s built around a thrumming synth wash and spare backbeat, carrying echoes of “Streets Of Philadelphia.” At least until Frazier’s acoustic moves to the forefront, and it assumes its true identity as an epic love song: “All along the way together / I will take you by my side / I’m happy with the life I’m livin’ / I’d be happy if I died.”

“Not a Whole Lot Going On” is a terrific, finger-snapping melodic number with a wistful tinge to the lyric, a song about simplifying your life while still missing the adrenalin of younger days. In his sleepy hometown, the narrator says “I’ve been asking for an enlightened revelation / When all along it was out there on my street.” A punchy horn section gives the song real swing and soul, even as it’s counter-balanced by twangy slide guitar notes; it’s a rich, heady melange of styles.

Domesticity also feels like the central concern of the hooky folk-pop number “In The Gale” and the gorgeous, keening devotional “Falsaddo” (“I don’t know what it is / But you know what it takes”), while steady-building closer “Caught In The Middle” feels a bit more restless in spirit (“If only time felt better as you waste it / But you’re caught in the middle”). The powerful collision of rippling piano, gospel organ and assertive strings at the too-brief close is pure Frazier.

It must be said that in the rapidly passing era of the 70-minute CD, eight songs and 37 minutes makes for a fairly brief album. The Vol. 1 appellation suggests there’s more to follow, though, and in the meantime, this concise collection offers abundant riches to explore, and promise for the future. In an era when so many artists are taking their sound either artificially huge and impersonal or stripped-down-to-nothing lo-fi, Casey Frazier is making music that’s both organic and expansive, rich with heart and soul and grooves and twang, deeply American music that’s both genuinely exotic and as uncomplicated as an impulsive kiss from the person you love.

Rating: A-

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