Reviewed by Dale Nickey:
David Lewis – Among Friends
Wow Records – Release Date 6/25/20
Nice to listen to music without context sometimes. My first scan of this music suggested a very young, precocious artist. The second coming of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame perhaps. Lyrics ahead of the artist’s years; a gentle, youthful voice offering his bouquet of epiphanies with humility. Comparisons to Al Stewart and Nick Drake are easy to draw and impossible to ignore. Then I read the bio. The real story behind the artist is quite surprising.
David Lewis is a college professor, PhD and academic. Somehow, he’s also found time to develop into a skillful singer/songwriter recording artist. He is currently a professor at the London School of Economics who did his graduate studies at Cambridge University where he met the man who would later become artist John Wesley Harding. The 80’s would find him busking and collaborating with Harding, placing three of his cowrites on various Harding albums. Lewis finally put out his own debut in 1996 (No Straight Line) with such luminaries as Robert Lloyd and Peter Buck.
Now in 2020, David Lewis has released his new long player “Among Friends”. The album was produced by lifelong friend and collaborator Wesley Stace (AKA John Wesley Harding) at Danielson Studios in the New Jersey countryside; and the album is reflective of that pastoral setting. The musical foundation is predominantly soft, well recorded acoustic guitars interrupted by the occasional neo-psyche/folk/prog Amuse-bouche. Lyrical gems aplenty are to be found on “Among Friends”. David Lewis is clearly an artist who likes to read and think about things. However, his existential musings come with a spoonful of sugar rather than vinegar; and are easily consumed by the casual listener.
What follows are some of the highlights on “Among Friends”:
“Fixed Star” is the obvious choice as the gateway track to the album, with a sprite guitar riff hooking together the verses, one thinks of The Cure battling a rare bout of optimism.
“Unswept Leaves” dips its big toe in the pool of Psychedelia with flanged guitar pushing forward Lewis’s unthreatening vocal style.
“Three Sides” gets a little darker, blusier and noisier with a Booker T. organ riff and some splashy/messy drum work that somehow remains in the pocket.
“Whisper to Me” – Nice rolling acoustic guitar arpeggio whose similarity to Nick Drake’s Three Hours is self-evident. The opening suddenly breaks into a neo-prog interlude that could pass for a Yes outtake circa 1968, then back to a recapitulation of the guitar/voice opening.
“What’s True” – a two time beat, and a loping guitar rhythm brings to mind John Hartford’s “Gentile on My Mind”, and shares that song’s wistful aspect.
“Softest of Years” – This song stands as the lyric tour de force of the album. A reflection on youth with a static arpeggiated guitar and a series of lines that anyone of a certain age will nod in agreement to. Key line “Life reimagined, but how much is true?”
“Close the Circle” is a song of amends and owning the mistakes and harm we inflict on others. Could serve as the Alcoholics Anonymous step 9 theme song.
“Time to Dream” – Light folk confection about the passage time and getting on with it.
“Temporary King” – Rare piano statement that might have been exploited more often on the album. Key line, “Who knows what fate can bring to a Temporary King who hides behind an old illusion”. Standard descending chord progression done nice.
This writer will admit to a personal bias in favor of the album format as a 10 song (or less) artistic statement. With the signature voice of David Lewis and the musical policy of “Among Friends” firmly set as acoustic guitar driven Folk-Rock, the twelve songs on “Among Friends” flirt with being too much of a good thing. However, one must consider how few albums Lewis has put out over the decades. Clearly, the New Jersey sessions found Lewis and company on a creative roll, so the desire to ‘put it all out’ is justifiable.“Among Friends” has a lot to offer across all generations with lyrics deep enough to engage souls who’ve ‘been there’ and a youthful aspect that can reach tweeners, Gen-X’rs, and indie-oughters. David Lewis is a unique artist who presents as both older and younger than yesterday.