Listen Up: Wednesday, April 27, 2005
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PHOTOS: 1
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Jason Upton

Great River Road (Self-released)

By Billy Walters

A giant hurdle for a musician in any genre is to produce work that sets itself apart from the pack of sound-alike schmos dominating a particular field. The drive to be different is a double-edged sword, of course, because trying too hard reeks of desperation and often sounds clumsy.
On Great River Road, Jason Upton’s sixth self-release, we get a little of both: A Christian album eschewing that genre’s tendencies toward absurdly slick production (good) and a gamble for uniqueness that Upton should have folded (bad).
Instead of the wanky guitar tones and over-the-top vocal phrasings that characterize much of praise-rock — or faith-rock or whatever it’s called nowadays — Road relies on subtle piano foundations with splashes of Spanish guitar, orchestral string flourishes, and intermittent, tasteful percussion. Upton’s pleasing tenor on top of this acoustic cornucopia makes parts of Road worth traveling.
However, when Mohican musician Bill Miller is featured, Road goes flat. An airy flute signals Miller’s arrival with an awkward Indian poetry recitation toward the end of the much-too-long “Chop Down the Tree.” Had it been done with a Legends of the Fall-type vibe, it might have been cool. Here, though, it’s way too loud and disorienting. Miller’s vocal appearance is brief at two songs, but it’s such an out-of-place fart that it taints the entire record.
There are a couple of stand-out tracks, including the jaunty “Run Baby Run,” with its pulsing bass line and classical guitar licks, and “The Road to Emmaus,” a gentle track that makes nice use of sparse mandolin lines and gentle shaker percussion to accent its biblical message. — Billy Walters


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