Waiting on You
3 out of 5 stars
If every track on Nashville transplant Sam Lewis’ sophomore album was as tuneful, immediate and instantly hummable as the opening “3/4 Time,” he would have one of the breakthrough albums of the year. But even though that’s not the case, Lewis connects with a smooth, expressive, soulful voice on a set of easy grooving, just short of overly mellow songs that combine blues, country, R&B, and pop influences.
There’s also a subtle gospel quotient provided by vocal backing from the McCrary Sisters who add just enough church to ballads such as the lovely “Talk to Me” and “She’s a Friend” to push these laconic tracks a little further into the red. There are echoes of artists from Jesse Winchester to James Taylor in Lewis’ sincere, rolling voice and musically much of this falls into Van Morrison’s Moondance and Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon style of R&B laced subtle folk pop, although not as musically buoyant as the former and less rhythmically peppy than the latter.
Producer Oliver Wood from the Wood Brothers keeps the sound as earnest and inviting as Lewis’ vocals, preferring to leave plenty of space in the mix. Well-respected Nashville studio pros such as guitarists Kenny Vaughan and Darrell Scott, Gabe Dixon on piano and the immediately identifiable harmonica of Mickey Raphael on loan from Willie Nelson’s band help out, which guarantees a professional sheen. The dozen selections were recorded in under three days providing a bit more immediacy to the approach. All the pieces fit together, perhaps a little too well, including recording in the old Monument Records studio.
A few tunes don’t have much in the way of hooks and while the predominantly low key atmosphere of the project makes it perfect for lazy Sunday mornings nursing a Cappuccino, you often wish there was more of an edge. To his credit, Lewis infuses enough emotion and the occasional upbeat blues shuffle of “Things Will Never be the Same” to keep this from creeping into snooze territory and his melodies are strong enough to support the cushy production.
It’s all perfectly agreeable, if somewhat tame. But with a few more songs like the opener, Lewis might have a crossover hit and as coffee sipping albums go, this one is as warm, tasty, and inviting as they come.