Presentation can account for so much when considering local music. A simple professional-sounding recording goes a long way while introducing an unknown artist to a group of people who are typically used to polished production and happy mistakes. No tape hiss. No bad drum sounds. No blaring bass guitar. No un-equalized electric guitars. No faded vocals. No underwhelming volume control. None of it. Avoid those pitfalls and you — yes, you! — can quickly separate yourself from the rest of the local music scene and stand out as a cut above the rest.
Enter Chambersburg, Pa.’s Jake Lewis and his latest effort, “Location, Location.” Sure, his blend of male-dominated pop rock may be a bit tiring for those who can’t buy in to the whole earnest singer-songwriter thing. And yeah, each of the 10 tracks here evoke the same type of radio-friendly schlock-rock best heard in the mid-1990s from such memorable one-hit wonders as Shawn Mullins and Tal Bachman. But even with that said, it would be impossible to ignore or discount the element of professionalism when giving the man’s most recent collection a listen.
And that’s important. Actually, it’s probably more important than one may initially think. Songs such as “These Bones” and “Just Say So” simply wouldn’t work if the production and presentation didn’t prove to be as crisp and tidy as it ultimately is. Without that type of professionalism, both songs would appear to be rip-offs of the type of John Mayer that still whines about high school reunions. Instead, what Lewis offers is a Ryan Adams-esque style of acoustic songwriting that proves its place among the area’s best.
That approach serves him well on “Roam Far,” the album’s opening track that finds Lewis doing his best Adams impersonation vocally while the slow tempo accentuates the bare-bones presentation. All told, the track could have easily passed as a B-side for the alt-country singer’s classic, “Heartbreaker.” “Doesn’t Matter” features the same type of minimalist recording, though Lewis substitutes the picking for strumming, creating a more fluid performance than some of the others that appear here.
Ironically, the record works the least when the singer decides to ask his friends to join him. “Waves” starts out shaky and unexpected as it’s the first time acoustic guitar-driven, full-band rock appears on “Location, Location.” Lewis quickly makes up for the possible misstep by coating the track’s chorus with enough sugary pop to make even Duncan Sheik blush. “Lost” then adds more electricity to the party, though the melodramatic twang brings to mind Jeff Tweedy more than it does Edwin McCain.
Speaking of twang, a country music influence peeks its head through the curtains more often than not throughout most of the 10 songs here, making Lewis’s hushed voice and stroke-heavy playing an asset he uses to his advantage. “Clara” pushes forward in a bluegrass manner (with nary another instrument in sight, mind you) before a female voice pops up to add a pretty and fulfilling layer of backing vocals that fit perfectly underneath his broken tone. Album-closer “Anything At All,” meanwhile, sways gloriously and allows the songwriter to show off his imaginative chops by adding a trombone into the mix and creating a fine way to properly bid adieu to this 10-song trip.
And while parting can so often be such sweet sorrow, here, the decision to release only 10 tracks helps make “Location, Location” one of the best local releases the Frederick area has seen in months. Some of that may be attributed to the amount of professionalism Jake Lewis so easily conveys throughout each performance. Some of that may be attributed to his knack for writing solid, acoustic-guitar-driven pop songs. Whatever it is doesn’t quite matter, though. “Location, Location” would continue to stand fine on its own, regardless of whether it’s surrounded by local releases aimed at selling out coffee shops or national sets aimed at cracking Billboard charts.
The best part of it all? Jake Lewis has the potential to do both.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***