The 11 songs from Sawyer Fredericks’ release in May — “A Good Storm” — fall into two basic camps: stripped down ballads and radio-style productions.
The forlorn ballads focus on Fredericks’ voice and delivery with one or two other instruments. The 17-year-old farm boy from Glen sounds like a man who has weathered a full life of broken relationships. His singing here is overwhelming with depth and control, the same quality that earned him the top spot in the eighth season of “The Voice” television show, as a mere 15 year old.
The other category of songs consist of layers of production with a full band that somewhat force the emotion and dynamic of the song and feel a lot like what is already on the radio. They are decent recordings, but they would not win him any contests on national television.
The same timeless topics thread through all the songs: heartbreak, one-sided relationships, remorse, regret, confusion, standing at a crossroads. By all counts, the album is great, filled with fantastic songs dominated by unusually mature and skilled singing.
On “A Good Storm,” the title track, Fredericks sounds tortured well beyond his years — beyond anyone’s years. This is a bluesy song that captures the core of Fredericks’ talents and was a bold move for a title track — it is very slow, far from radio friendly, and requires courage to sing. It’s hard to imagine it performed in a concert. At the same time, the willingness to expose himself in his songs is part of the attractive qualities that make him so popular.
In 50 years, when Fredericks is still performing like so many old-time singers are today, we’ll hear his voice in this song and think it hasn’t changed since he was 16.
“Just let the cold take me in its arms, ‘Cause I don’t need the sun to rise in the morning,” he sings to close the song. Despite the cliché of the lines, they feel sincere coming from him.
Similar to this track is “Still Here,” also great for the same reasons as the title track. It starts with his haunting voice and piano, singing slowly and deliberately. This is Sawyer at his best, in complete control. This is what brought him his success. “I need to know if you’re still here,” he begs in a fearlessly vulnerable tone. This is a song that makes the record unique, and why his fans love him.
The songs are all three to four minutes, except “What I’ve Done,” another stand-out, which extends for nearly seven minutes, and it is all worth it. The song takes place after he broke his lover’s heart: “The whole town gathers around to see what I’ve done.” He is painfully remorseful, and his voice sounds like a full-grown man who wrecked a family after a life of pretending. There is a full band on this one, but he is too strong on the vocals to allow distraction. It’s less his voice that mesmerizes, and more his delivery. For the final chorus, he pushes out a throaty yell, and then he fades with his sadness.
Too much production
The rest of the collection is good, some of it real good, but they stray from his sweet spot. They are mostly produced with tasteful and trendy hooks tailored for a hit. Fredericks is still there, over the production, and that’s what keeps the songs strong.
The first single and record opener, “Take It All,” is a good song, and made for success, but it falls short of his great ones where he sings without a band, without numerous tracks around him, just his mesmerizing singing.
In “This Fire,” and “Shots Fired,” the band propels the song forward better than Fredericks does on his band-less tunes. In “Shots’ Fired,” the production might be too heavy for Fredericks, though. It’s a dense song about waging war with his lover after failing at peace. The shots are her words to him. If there was a song that could have been scratched, this is the one.
He has a quick song, “Strange,” with Mia Z., a competitor from The Voice. It’s a well done three-minute duet. This was not essential to the record, but shows he has range.
The CD has two version of “4 Pockets,” the first a bluesy, naturally moving lament. The second, with Pharrell Williams, his coach from The Voice, is similar – same tempo, same feel, a bit stiffer. The song is fine, but certainly two versions were not necessary.
This record validates all the attention Fredericks has received as a singer. It’s hard to say where he’s musically heading. But it’s clear that he knows his strengths — finding his old-soul voice as a mere teenager — and will stay close to the music he wants to do.
‘A Good Storm’
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