March 16, 2010
On Ramp Records
Compared to his previous releases the record sounds calmer and more mature. Aaron Lines seems to have settled in his comfort zone and hits it out of the park right on the first track. The Trouble With California is a hook filled pop tune with country roots (especially in the guitar arrangement and Lines' vocals). The theme of feeling out of place, no matter how nice it may look, is something most of us will be able to relate to. And Lines knows how to sell that narrative. On Sand, Lines starts to play with the timing and rhythm a little bit, which is something that old school country acts used to do quite a bit but the song never really feels like a country song. Just like the opener it feels much more like a pop song with country roots. And that's the sweet spot for this artist. His vocals, his conviction and his songwriting all falls into place.
The album features more songs in the same mold with most of the songs filling the right mix between pop sensibility and country origins. Lyrically the songs have enough substance and steer away from the most obvious clichés. One thing though, the songs are rather safe and smooth and sound very round. There's no real edge to them. So while the songs are really pleasant and while this is exactly where Aaron Lines' strength lies, it doesn't necessarily set him apart from similar artists, if not for the nearly flawless vocals.
A song that really stands out is the emotionally laden I Haven't Even Heard You Cry on which Lines really shows he can connect to the listener on a deeper, emotional level; You'd Still Love Me is a nice upbeat, faster radio single type of song that is easy to relate to and easy to sing along to. A bit formulaic though. The title track Sunday Afternoon is another shiner, primarily because of the timing and Lines' exceptional vocals.
On These Are The Days the driving guitar (which is used in many a popular song) gives the song a certain urgency and while it adds a little grit to the song and lends that southern vibe to it, it never completely comes off the ground. The picture painted by the words and the message of living life to the fullest without regrets and making your own luck is something I appreciate and which reminds me of John Taglieri who excells at songs in that theme. But Aaron Lines doesn't have the same energy and conviction that Taglieri naturally fills his songs with. I would imagine a collaboration between these two musicians could be extremely interesting.
Where Lines had a little trouble with California earlier he now says I Love New York, which culminates in a musical tour down all the highlights in New York. For those who visted New York it is a cool song as it will bring the memories flood back but musically it isn't one of the most memorable songs on the album. Unloving You is more sensitive and allows Lines to bring the emotional dimension back into his music and that immediately makes this song one of the gems on this album. The subtle keys in the song are a perfect addition to this testament of love. If ever we could speak of a wheelhouse for Aaron Lines, this may very well be it. Big, emotion-driven country-pop anthems.
The end of the album is a little more countryfied. Even the song title fits in that mold. Making Love In The Afternoon has a subtle saloon piano and an easy going vocal line accompanied by the guitar strumming in the background. It's a fun song. Closer Everything I Know About Life has that country grit but in a subtle matter. It also is one of the best songs on the album. The impeccable vocal control and song about discovering that life isn't something you can entirely plan out and that life experience counts as much as any other education and you have the ingredients for a classic country song. Lines' strength, however, is that he never lets it veer off into a real country song but that he stays on the border between pop and country. And that is why he is able to pull this off so convincingly.
"Sunday Afternoon" is a solid album and Aaron Lines' most mature and balanced album to date. While some of his earlier albums as a whole may have made more of an impression, this album has more lasting power. None of the songs are likely to propel Aaron Lines in superstardom but it should carve out a nice niche for him to shine in. There are plenty of similar artists but with the amount of vocal control and strong songwriting Lines consistently brings to the table this new record should earn him a place at that table.