Tom Savage,
Brand of Sympathy
(self-produced, 2001)

Brand of Sympathy is like a homage to Bob Dylan, with recurring elements -- in particular, the flute/rock combination -- seemingly borrowed from Jethro Tull. The album quickly blurs into a bland wash of sameness, ideal for background music in bars, fine to sample as you walk past, like the lady in the cover photos. My concentration kept sliding off like a truant child from a boring class and I had to work hard to summon sufficient focus for a conscientious review. Don't misunderstand me -- were I to hear it while in the company of friends and alcohol, it would be a pleasantly undemanding filler, and it will doubtless have an appeal to those who like this style of music, but somehow I do not think that was Tom Savage's goal.

"Barstool Conversations" opens the album with a blatant Dylanistic revolutionary style song, vocally and musically atmospheric of the wake-up songs of the '60s. He slows the pace with the next track, "Brand of Sympathy," which has a nice easy lilt to it. The third track sounds almost exactly like the preceding song, but has a more country feel courtesy of his banjo, and Peter Jozca's mandolin helps lift the accompaniment. The fifth track, "Don't Throw Me to the Wolves," made me smile only because I happened upon the similarity here with the Bonzo-Dog Doo-Dah Band: wolves and dogs -- already I was struggling! The next, "Change My World," did have me humming along, but only because its familiarity seemed an amalgam of "Mull of Kintyre" and "Scots Wha' Hae"!

"Change My World" is a defiant blur of ELO, the Eagles and the ubiquitous Dylan, and I admit by now I was playing "spot the plagiarisms" as my well-intentioned concentration finally departed to more dynamic pursuits (like watching paint dry). I was jarred into waking up by his inclusion of "ah-one-two-three-four" to count in the ninth track: an attempt to keep a live sound on a recorded CD and an unnecessary mechanism I particularly dislike. This was undoubtedly the strongest emotion and reaction I felt during the entire 13-track, 51-minute album.

Savage sports long Dylanish sideburns in the photos on the CD cover, and the photo is in black and white, with the only colour being his guitar. Strangely indicative of the contents of the album, fairly dull and bland, with perhaps one point of interest; the shortest track on the CD has the most memorable refrain as its title: "We've All Made Mistakes." Although this work is not a mistake, I felt Savage's vocal and musical talent capable of better things. I also had the suspicion that, despite being recorded between April and July 2001, this album was put together rather hurriedly, perhaps to have a marketable commodity for live gigs? As this cannot be described as an innovative sound, even though I seldom think a cover version improves on the original, it occurred to me that he might have been better covering past songs of the artists he emulates. Many people may enjoy Brand of Sympathy, but I personally will not be looking out for his follow-up album.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 31 August 2002

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