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Todd Kessler and the New Folk
Album: Sea Fever
If you watch NBC’s program, The Voice, you may be familiar with Todd Kessler, who appeared on season three of the show. I haven’t seen any of The Voice—not because of a holier-than-thou refusal to watch mainstream programs, but because I don’t have a television at school.
I looked up a few videos from the show on YouTube, and a commentator described Kessler’s duet with another contestant to be, “the Hall & Oates of the 21st century,” a title that I wouldn’t throw around loosely. And with Kessler’s lack of a John Oates-style mustache, I wasn’t sure if I could believe the comparison.
Todd Kessler, a Chicago-based musician, now fronts a band, The New Folk, in his post-Voice career. According to his website, the band started work on their debut album, Sea Fever, back in August 2010. Sea Fever and four other albums recorded by Kessler with various musicians were released on his own label, Wyzguy records, starting with a 2006 debut album.
The album opens with “Oh Brother,” a contemplative, mostly acoustic ode that builds up with brass near the end, teasing with more complex instrumentation that will be featured on later tracks. Sea Fever provides a toe-tapper with the album’s second track, “My Maker,” which includes layered instrumentation, plucky acoustic guitar chords under upbeat piano and electric guitar lines. The song neatly concludes before three minutes are up, a textbook example of an effective and well-written pop song.
For the most part, Sea Fever stays with upbeat compositions, but there are a couple of slower songs that overstay their welcome, such as “Intangible,” with a one-word chorus that lulls, and the basic piano and vocals featured on the metaphorical “Canary in a Coalmine.” However, there are more than enough songs with varying instrumentation to keep the album afloat, such as the laid-back “Prospect of Protest,” with a calypso-like beat and “Holes on the Floor,” which alternates a ska-style guitar line with a sultry brass part, topping it off with an impressive guitar solo. And a bit later there’s the impressive drawn-out jam at the end of “Zen Lunatics,” a hazy mix of electric guitar and Kessler’s singing layered over a chorus of background vocals.
The album is punctuated with a brief, two-minute duet, “Put You in My Pocket,” a cutesy stay-with-me tune that includes lines such as, “I’ll put you in my pocket / and you’ll stay with me every day,” which would be effective in a Valentine’s Day card for your significant other. (You’re welcome.) The song’s sparseness gets some mid-song oomph with a brassy arrangement. If your folk-pop duo is looking for new material to play at an open mic, take note.
Overall, Sea Fever is a satisfying contribution to a post-Hall & Oates world. Although Todd Kessler’s mustache can’t even be compared to John Oates’, any lack of ‘80s-style facial hair becomes irrelevant upon hearing the musicianship on Sea Fever, a well-produced and earnest album whose full instrumentation creates a sea of upbeat songs with definite replay value.
Overall: B+ (or 8/10)
Standout Tracks: “My Maker,” “Prospect of Protest,” “Holes in the Floor,” “Put You in My Pocket”
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