Local singer-songwriter Dave Mott’s latest set, “Riverside,” is the perfect storm of monotony. He’s got a low, vaguely baritone voice and a load of songs as predictable as they are cliched. Plus, the writing itself is passive, a kind-hearted approach to bits of music that tackle heartbreak and/or loneliness. Even when you’re supposed to cry for the guy, his storytelling method makes you think it’s really not all that big of a deal.
There’s something about Shab Row Recordings in Frederick that lacks depth. Now, this isn’t to say that the studio needs to shut down and the people who record there need to stop making music; it’s only to say that at some point, someone has to step up and try to take this stuff to the next level. The performances need to be tighter. The drummers rarely ever need to be involved. And somehow, someway, a little bit of soul needs to be pulled out of these artists.
In fact, such is the main thing lacking throughout all of “Riverside.” Take “Blue Moon Blues,” which actually has the word “blues” in it. Illustrating a tale ripe with an unfaithful lover’s actions, it’s all but impossible to believe Mott when he talks about waking up this morning, knowing “what he had to do.” Coming back to a second verse with a lazy “You had some nerve” doesn’t help, either. The harmonica-laden blues that backs it up isn’t terrible, but it lacks punch. And to do the blues well, obviously, you need to know how to punch.
“Not Enough Aways” is another take on heartbreak, this time via the conduit of longing and regret. Presented as a soft rock tune that moves through an acoustic guitar and utterly irrelevant drums, it highlights one of the singer’s weirdest quirks: A commitment to rarely rhyming his words. “Time wasn’t right/When we first fell in love / We both had others / We couldn’t let go / Now I’m free / And I’m lookin’ / For a second chance/To trade all my yesterdays for tomorrows,” he sings and … huh? Even trying to pawn some semblance of rhyme off on “go” and “tomorrows” doesn’t work. Instead, it plays like a confused attempt at wisdom.
“Crossroads Of Love” kicks off the record with such a lack of passion that even when the singer talks about leaving town, you know he’s going to stay. The best thing about the track is the subtle electric guitar that might — just might — make Hootie & The Blowfish grin. “Mama’s Song,” an ode to mothers everywhere, turns up a mandolin and despite its snoozy design, this showcases some of the set’s tightest performances.
Still, that doesn’t make up for the moments that are unforgivable, and perhaps the most egregious of those is “Legend of the Snallygaster,” which can either be viewed as a charmingly fun ditty about the world’s mythic monsters or as an embarrassing attempt to endear an artist to his audience. Making matters worse is Mott’s attempt at rocking out. Because of how acquiescent the singer appears whenever he performs, you almost feel bad for how seriously unserious he hopes to be taken. The problem? The kind of unserious he’s hoping to achieve isn’t the kind he accomplishes.
And here’s why the guy too often veers too far into parody: His attempts at edge are dull — duller than an unsharpened pencil, in fact. “Addicted To Your Love” seems to be a pass at the more suggestive elements of romance, yet Mott delivers all his musings with the excitement of a snail. This, of course, is to say nothing of the electric guitar that lacks vigor. There’s no use to try and rock if you can’t roll, and unfortunately, this is a guy who lacks the ability to do both. Staying in your lane can be far more valuable than you think.
Also valuable is knowing your limitations and the title track gets closer to that ethos than anything else here. Lyrically, it’s endearingly backwoods, complete with references to a fishing hole, while musically, the electric guitar is tasteful between verses, giving the production a subdued rockabilly vibe. It’s the most complete moment on an album lacking confidence and vision.
None of this is to suggest that David Mott can’t get better, of course; it’s only to say that “Riverside” is a sloppy set of half-cooked songs that could have benefited from true attitude and an engaging voice. The more you listen to it, the more your attention drifts off into Nowhere Land every 30 seconds and not even the best intentions in the world could counteract a boring voice singing boring songs.
“Your love is like a dormant sea,” Mott sings on album-ender “Winter Song.”
Well. Love ain’t the only latent thing you gotta worry about.
* 1 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 *