Slightly South Of Stormy Clouds

Quinn Hedges

Independent release, 2017

http://www.quinnhedges.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/28/2017

Quinn Hedges’ pitch for this, his fourth and latest solo album, was populated with the usual background and namedrops—for example, the album was co-engineered and mixed by Grammy winner Tim Sonnefeld and mastered by the great Bob Ludwig. As if to prove the value of doing so, however, what moved the needle from modest to active interest from this particular reviewer was Hedges’ mention of his hometown: Sacramento, the Northern California city where my family spent more than two decades, the place where my kids grew up. Okay fine, said the notorious homer to himself, we’ll give this one a shot.

It’s a good thing, too, as my homey does not disappoint. Its slightly awkward title aside, Slightly South Of Stormy Clouds offers a solid showcase for Hedges’ creative, crafty singer-songwriter work, dipping into elements of folk, rock, blues, jazz and funk. The album is a bit of a family affair, with Quinn and cousin John B. Hedges co-producing and various other Hedges (Bernie, June, Rebecca) providing background vocals in multiple instances. Make no mistake, though: this a clean, crisp and thoroughly professional production from start to finish.

Opener “Heartbreak Goes Both Ways” suggests immediately that you’re in for an imaginative ride, opening with a strings-and-vocals arrangement before the acoustic guitar and piano take over and recast a similar verse and identical chorus inside a fresh arrangement. Then at 3:10 the bridge explodes into a heavy rock segment. Call it progressive pop or whatever you like; it’s a frothy concoction that takes a rather minimalist lyric and stretches things out to 5:20 without ever losing the thread.nbtc__dv_250

“You Don’t Even Know” clarifies Hedges’ approach and appeal, a limber folk-rock tune that feels very Dave Matthews with its churning acoustic rhythm guitar and swirling strings counter-pointed  by a complex rhythm section pattern. There’s a familiar feeling to the vocals as well, which take on a John Mayer-ish cast: breathy, earnest, entreating. “Stay” is in a similar vein, Matthews-influenced in the interplay between acoustic guitar, strings, rhythm section, and breathy, urgent vocals.

Hedges offers nothing if not variety, though. “Forever More” is straight-up country-folk, a love song with mandolin and sweet female harmony vocals from Alison Harris, while “Loss For Words” has kind of a jazz-balladeer, Harry Connick / Spencer Day feel, featuring piano, upright bass, muted trumpet and sax. “Fly Away” takes this a step farther with strong funk undertones and a rhythm section and horn accents that set my fingers to snapping all the way through the stinging guitar solo.

Even after that run of different looks, “I’m Gone” still manages to surprise, opening airy and full of echo on the vocals and cymbals, before launching into big, angsty alt-rock choruses that essay the bitter dissolution of a relationship (“I’m gone – I just haven’t told you yet”), capped by a rather exotic, echoey, slightly Gilmour-esque solo. “Anymore” then offers a sad acoustic goodbye (“Now you won’t hear from me anymore”) that reminds a bit of Luke Winslow-King, with the string section adding texture and poignancy to a tune full of strong lyrical bits and harmony vocals.

“Starting Today” opens with gently bluesy piano, referencing the album title in opening bars that remind of the same from “Walking In Memphis.” The arrival of horns, drums and electric guitar gives things a celebratory feel, and then around 3:00 they drop into a reggae backbeat; it’s that progressive pop thing again, shifting gears as the mood of the lyrics shifts. Hedges closes things out with a love song: “My Angel” is a pleasant acoustic ballad that builds, adding banjo and strings and backing vocals in the fifth minute for a powerful finish. 

Two other cuts here (“Honey” and “Calm Down”) are little more than interludes, minute-long ideas that never really develop into songs, but carry the vibe nicely. Overall, Slightly South Of Stormy Clouds offers a solid platform for a talented singer-songwriter to showcase a range of styles. There’s a lot to admire here: imaginative arrangements and superb musicianship; extra-clean production that nonetheless holds onto that organic feel of real people playing real instruments, and no auto-tune (“No voices were harmed in the creation of this album”).

Slightly South explores—and does justice to—a variety of different musical approaches under the expansive umbrella of modern chamber pop. Way to represent, Hedges.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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