John Lester,
So Many Reasons
(Midnight Cafe, 2007)

If So Many Reasons says anything about John Lester, it's that he is a musical chameleon. The album should have been called So Many Styles. While the most common denominators -- er, I mean, styles -- are blues and roots, that's still not an adequate description. The title track takes on an arthouse blues edge, while the next song "Steppin' Back in Time" turns more towards jazz. "Beware la Merde" is a cool Beatnik-meets-Parisian-cafe ditty, complete with percussive snaps peppered throughout the song. "She & I" takes a deeply intense soulful pace compared to the laissez-faire, laid-back maritime attitude in "Rainbow Over Magen's Bay."

Arguably the best song on the album is "Last Letter to Theo," which has a style nigh-impossible to define, but it certainly has a pleasant and pensive pace. The wind instrument player is named Theo Travis, so this song may be about him; regardless, the upper register Travis plays in the background acts as an excellent counterpoint to Lester's low-range tenor voice. (I know, I know -- tenor is a relatively higher voice, but Travis's alto flute is really high.)

"Fear Itself" (obviously taking its title from the famous FDR quote) is the oddball of the album. It's the only song that takes any kind of a political stance, compared to the rest of the songs that tell a story. It's as if Lester decided he needed a song with socio-cultural relevancy (that will soon be outdated), when he really didn't. Take the very next song, "Union Street." It tells the story of homeless people ignored by the government in a more timeless manner, a story that will still be relevant in 10, 20 or even 100 years; whereas "Fear Itself" is a critique of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum Lester supports, the artistic shift from timeless storytelling to current political commentary is an unfortunate and jarring break from the album's overall vibe.

John Lester is a musician with a versatile sound and solid performances that do not disappoint. So Many Reasons is a very pleasant album that has entertaining stories to tell. Sure, it's not a blow-you-away spectacular album, yet by no means should it be considered awful or bland. It's firmly in the "pleasant" range. While So Many Reasons is not an album that will get a listen every single day, it is certainly worth having a listen every now and then.

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review by
C. Nathan Coyle

22 December 2007

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