John Maxfield | The Status Quo (Tantrum Niche)

cd_john-maxfield.gifThe growth and maturation of his talents shine on "Holding Out," the second track on the set, a piano-based tune Joe Jackson could have released in his prime.







The Status Quo is John Maxfield’s second release in less than a year’s time, and a return to more straightforward alternative pop. It also features some of his best songwriting in that format, which has benefited for the creative leaps he took on 2008’s Hullabalooga. The growth and maturation of his talents shine on "Holding Out," the second track on the set, a piano-based tune Joe Jackson could have released in his prime. "Ghost Train," which follows it, brings Maxfield closer to familiar territory of bluesy folk rock, and features some of his most confident vocals.

Like those of a number of singer-songwriters, Maxfield’s vocals have been distinctive and, to a certain degree, an acquired taste. His voice has grown for the better, so now not only does he express a degree of range, but he augments his tone. In particular, the background vocals of "Ghost Train" feature a chestier and throatier Maxfield than I’ve heard on record to date. This dedication to craft is essential when working as artist, songwriter and producer. He is learning to tailor his vocalization to the songs, which is essential because his songwriting and arranging has continued to grow.

Maxfield’s growth as a craftsman is evidenced b "Dead Silence," a downbeat, piano-driven waltz that hypnotically folks in on itself, which is followed by "Rag Doll," a riff-based, fast-paced retro-rock number that sounds as if it could have been plugged off an LP circa ’66. Then the vintage, mid-’70s singer-songwriter homage (prominent horn section, piano solo and all), "Loverman," cues up. Genre shifts like these need some sort of continuity to make a cohesive listening experience. Thankfully, Maxfield’s growth as a vocalist allows him to do these tracks justice and still evoke a singular thread uniting them, that being his much-improved vocal tone and delivery. When the vintage riffs return on "Wrong," Maxfield’s guitar gets the same VIP treatment his voice has started to receive, making this song Guitar Hero-worthy for that reason.

The Status Quo s songs square dance with one another, sharing certain elements, while otheres have only Maxfield’s voice as the common thread. That said, each one has a partner or relative song that seems to compliment it perfectly, somewhere else in the song cycle. This desegregation keeps the album lively and exciting. Case in point, the 6.7 track sequence is like shuffling CDs by Steely Dan and Cream, and then comes track 8, "No What?" that brings to mind Monster-era R.E.M. That makes album-opener "Dearly" and later track "Say You Love Me" especially nostalgic, because on these Maxfield returns to evoking the college rock music of the late ’80s that predated ’90s alternative and made a quasi-comeback as adult-alternative at the turn of the century.

So if we just stroll back on the genre-naming timeline, it makes perfect sense to hear "Don’t Deny Me" a return to the same style Maxfield used on "Loveman," this time with a bit more of a Dylan feel. The closer, "Stuck in St. Louis," is a perfect example of how you take an acoustic guitar and create a melody pleasant enough to not need any other instrumentation beyond the vocal. In this case, it’s a perfect closing song, because it’s timeless and lived in, just another sign of a talented artist who’s explored his gifts thoroughly and has now set his sights on mastering his craft. B+ | Willie E. Smith

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