Riley Downing – Start It Over (New West Records)
Somewhere between Johnny Cash’s Tennessee whiskey vocals and Tom Waits’ gargling with gravel sound, you’ll find Riley Downing’s vocal range.
On Start It Over, his first solo outing, the guitarist for The Deslondes turns in a remarkably satisfying mix of Americana, rock, folk and R&B, all wrapped in a laid-back Louisiana vibe. The opening track, “I’m Not Ready,” sets the mood perfectly, with Downing’s unrushed vocals over a carefree piano/guitar soundtrack. The vibe doesn’t change much for the next 11 songs, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Downing brought in Andrijia Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) and his Deslondes bandmate John James Tourville to co-produce the record and they manage to do a solid job of creating a sound that certainly fits into the current Americana music scene, while holding on to Downing’s unique style. He also brought in an impressive backing band that include the Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence and session players that have worked with everyone from Dolly Parton, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell to Blaze Foley.
The cautiously optimistic theme from the track “I’m Not Ready,” is a fairly consistent thread weaved throughout Start It Over. Elsewhere, the slow tempo “Looking Forward,” one of the best tracks on the record, is a deceptively simple message (everyone needs something to look forward to) – delivered with subtle strings and Downing’s deliberate vocals – is remarkably powerful and could serve as an anthem as the collective world slowly starts to come back to a sense of normalcy. Even a track like “Start It Over,” about finding a couple of records to perk him up, on the surface seems trite, but coming from Downing sounds like an honest revelation and is wildly relatable. Admittedly, the album takes more than one listen to really catch on, but the time investment is well worth it. Start It Over is a remarkably satisfying record that gets better every time you go back to it. https://www.rileydowning.com