Teddy Chipouras sounds like the boy next door and that’s a good thing. Hailing from Lovettsville, Virginia, his voice is innocent and inquisitive, a charming combination of youth and sincerity. He’s so unassuming that you can’t envision him even stepping to the microphone, let alone picking up a harmonica or a banjo or sitting behind an organ like he does often on his debut six-song EP, “Rolling Hills.”
The thing is, it works. If there’s one lasting conclusion about these tracks, it’s that everything from the production to the songwriting feels so impressively effortless. For such a young kid — who lists playing with “Voice” alum Paul Pfau as one of his career highlights — this is the sound of a guy who has wisdom beyond mere numbers. Polished and sure, these songs suggest the groundwork of a career that has no real ceiling.
Take the ballad “Candle” as reason enough to roll with these hills. “Well, you held my candle,” Chipouras begins during verse two before explaining, “For as long as you could / Well, your hands got tired / I understand, or at least I should.” The passage is presented with ample humility, as though he’s singing up at someone with somber eyes and a lowly demeanor. Put atop a swinging structure that echoes anything emanating from Nashville’s Music Row, the song burns even after the candle’s light extinguishes.
“Other Corner” adheres to the same slower tempo while staying on the other side of sluggish. Sure, you can’t call it a ballad, but you can say its groove trots along at a mild pace, creating a lazy-yet-undeniable feel. Based around a quick guitar riff that eventually expands into other instruments, it gives the singer space for his vocals to radiate in the space between lines, even when he ends phrases in staccato form.
Opener “The Leaving” endears itself as well, especially with the way it turns around from the beginning uptick into a twangy pop that wouldn’t be out of place on a Christian Lopez record. As the track progresses, and it stays true to an uptempo ethos, Chipouras’ organ stabs its way into the fold, creating a warm backdrop as catchy as it is serene. Top it off with handclaps that spice up the hook and the end product is nothing short of irresistible.
The singer is at his best, however, when he goes for broke like he does on the set’s most memorable moment, “Rusted Silver Dime.” Simmering on the heels of a delicious acoustic guitar riff, the song is an exercise in build, refusing to completely boil over in ways that would ignite arenas. Instead, Chipouras smartly opts for subtlety, which allows the track to leave a more mysterious fingerprint than it would have had he given into atypical rock temptation. It fuses U2’s more droning work with pre-“Continuum” John Mayer and even if you hate both of those artists, there’s enough intrigue here to at least get your finger to the “play” button.
Ender “By the Wayside” allows the singer to go darker in tone than he does elsewhere, the guitar chords echoing from the Old West in ways that bring the desert together with contemporary rural Virginia. “Because she’s not where she claims to be,” he explains at one point before admitting, “I’m frightened for the kids.” For such a young mind, the guy sure knows how to weave a tale. The title track reiterates this with a passage such as “The rolling hills find quiet time/But unlike them, I’m not as wise.”
Maybe not, but there’s a lot to be said for a man who knows his own ignorance. And perhaps even stronger than the actual music here is the reality that it comes from someone who knows better about not knowing anything at all. For all of Teddy Chipouras’s victories and for all the things that make “Rolling Hills” essential listening, it’s the singer’s hard-earned wisdom and vivid imagery that sticks with you even after these six songs fade away.
So, yeah. Teddy Chipouras might seem like the boy next door. It’s just that in this case, the boy next door might actually know more than what most people are willing to give him credit for.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***