A true solo album is a feat of significant skill. It’s one thing to be able to play the guitar; it’s another to master the drums, bass, keyboard, etc. But then to find a compelling, emotive, irresistible singing voice? Shoot, unless your name is Prince or Lenny Kravitz, you may as well settle into the depths of disappointment, let alone the marriage to mediocrity such ambition often breeds.
So if nothing else, Lucas Laws’ full-length release, “Vanity,” is a triumph in versatility. None of this is to say he appears to be a master of any instrument at hand; rather, he proves he’s good enough at each of them to get by while creating the type of music he prefers to create. There’s nothing here that is necessarily rooted in expertise, but that lack of command is also part of the set’s charm.
The only problem? Too much is too similar. Take “Okay” and “Hope To Die,” two mid-tempo indie-leaning country ditties. The former trots along and struggles to navigate the line between endearingly lazy and unforgivingly boring. In only a little more than three minutes, Laws manages to play in both worlds. The latter, then, kind of/sort of recalls the Wallflowers’ “Three Marlenas” in a weird way, an unobtrusive electric guitar strumming over rim shots and an acoustic that struggles to find a groove. Even though it’s the point to be loose, the songs don’t do anybody any favors with attention span.
Part of that is because of the singer’s voice, which works as a baritone drawl that does little to excite itself. Laws is so unassuming, it’s almost a fault. “Woman,” for instance, has its moments — and not to mention an appealingly twangy construct — but it’s hard to get inspired when the delivery behind it feels so … well … uninspired. Plus, there isn’t a single good reason that drums should be involved with something as understated as this. Had Laws opted to go guitar-only, the track could have had a more lasting impact.
For proof of as much, check how touching “Get Back Home” is with its bare-bones presentation and deliberately low-fi production. Oddly, it also warrants one of the more engaged performances here, despite its laid back campfire vibe. On it, the singer feels warm and inviting as he longs for his companion to “get back home to me,” his storytelling abilities on display more prominently here than they are elsewhere on the record, proving that sweet and tender are colors that Lucas Laws wears well.
“Me & You” is similar in its heart, and its departure from the downtrodden indie pop that paints the majority of the set is both welcome and smart. The echoing electric guitar is bright, and the tiny sound of a kick drum plays navigator in this trip through a six-string that exemplifies sunny skies and warm days. He’s best when he decides against his Johnny-Cash-lite depth in vocals, and “Me & You” adds a layer you kind of wish to see more of throughout these 13 tracks.
Instead, however, you’re stuck with songs like “Ephemeral Love,” which takes a classic rock riff and strips it of all its energy. And that’s a hard thing to reconcile, especially when this is the kind of music that works best when it’s served hot — not room temperature.
Yet room temperature is about as hot as it gets on Laws’ “Vanity,” proving again that perhaps it isn’t the worst thing in the world to invite collaboration into the creation of art — more specifically, music. Sure, it’s impressive that this set was written and performed by only one person, and yes, this isn’t an awful release by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s hard not to wonder what could have been, had Laws decided to open his doors and mind to outside input.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **