Jimmy Newquist | Ashley Ave. (7th Kid Entertainment)

With Ashley Ave., the heretofore hard-rocking Jimmy Newquist has, indeed, embraced his folk side, adding pop sensibilities and overtures of romance.

 

When I last saw Jimmy Newquist, charismatic lead singer of the hard rocking Caroline’s Spine, he was playing a solo acoustic gig in Springfield, Illinois. With the Spine, he’s a commanding frontman, literally demanding and commanding attention and adoration simultaneously; solo, he was quieter, more human, perhaps: just a guy and his guitar. “I’m a folk singer trapped in a hard rock band,” he kidded—but he was only half joking.

Now, Newquist has released his first solo album, Ashley Ave., and for fans of Caroline’s Spine, it’s quite a departure. The first sign should be the genre: far from falling into the hard rock category, the album’s billed as adult alternative. The first song, “Contagious”—following the opening drum circle of “Welcome”—is an out-and-out poppy love song. Still, the voice, the rhythm, are pure Jimmy. With his rich, butter-smooth, versatile voice, he’s in his own class.

On “Come Over Here,” he proclaims, “I’m as free, I’m as free as I want to be/I look around, look around and you’re all I see/Don’t ever want to play this game without you anyway.” It’s a tale of seduction, a little tried and true, but it works; you find yourself rooting for the man with the silky smooth voice as he sings, “Baby, come over here,” his voice rising a few octaves at the end.

Crisp, well-strummed guitars back up the confessional “Secret”: “When the world thinks they know your secret/And they think you are somebody else/Sometimes I’d rather be all by myself/Look inside of me for what I’m needing.” As an added contrast, Newquist sings the verses especially low, the choruses a high falsetto.

The best track on Ashley Ave. is “Another Mary,” which begins ever so perfectly: “I like to think about what I can’t do without/in the end I learned I never learned a fucking thing.” Cleverly, Newquist compares present and current loves, both with the same name. It’s easily the most radio-appropriate song on the disc—and will, for obvious reasons, never grace the airwaves. Pity.

“I understand you near because I understood you far,” Newquist sings on “Around You” letting down his wall for the girl who can “make all [his] dreams come true.” Galloping guitars and an upbeat tempo will have your toes tapping as you sing along. “Beautiful,” a slower number, is defined by piano, played by Newquist himself.

At 6:10 in length, “Crazy Days” is the disc’s longest track. It’s a drifty, meandering gem, a mellow song that fits well with the autumn season. “Far Away” does, indeed, has a far-away feel to it, with aching strains of guitar. “Out to Play” is more upbeat and rocking; in another world, it could have been a Spine tune, but instead, Newquist has kept it all for himself. To offset the straight-ahead pop of “Someone,” he delivers the lyrics rapid-fire and repetitive: “And maybe, maybe think about what I am living it for.” Again, he alludes to having secrets, and the safety of love: “And your someone will love you/enough to hold your secrets.” The final song, “Fly,” begins as the disc did, with a drum circle; as it expands into a freeing, Native American feel, Newquist explains, “You and I, we’ll fly.”

With Ashley Ave., the heretofore hard-rocking Jimmy Newquist has, indeed, embraced his folk side, adding pop sensibilities and overtures of romance. And, truly, is music any less relevant because it’s about love? Jimmy Newquist says no—and with his versatile and gorgeous voice, you’ll listen to every word he sings.

Ashley Ave. is available online from www.bandmecca.com. For more info, check out www.7thkid.com.

Jimmy Newquist plays the Hard Rock Café on October 28.

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