Feb. 15 2012 02:59 PM

Americana singer-songwriter offers something for everyone

Jesse LaMonaca & The Dime Novels
Photo by Rebecca Joelson

Jesse LaMonaca & The Dime Novels
The Lament of Tumbleweed Hawk

Musical versatility can be a blessing or a curse. Too little and an artist is pigeonholed for what could seem like limited capability. Too much and the music could sound indecisive and sporadic, as if the artist can't decide what genre of music they want to play—or even worse, that they're just being showy with their skills.

The good news about Jesse LaMonaca's new album is that, while it lacks cohesiveness, the singer-songwriter makes up for it with an enlightened sense of pop songcraft and a voice that the listener just can't help but believe. His first record, 2010's Until the Stars Came Out, was nice enough—mostly singer-songwriter fare that fans of Ryan Adams and David Gray could appreciate. The new one has a little something for everyone: bluesy R&B (“The Flood,” “Wildcat”), altcountry (“Fool's Errand,” “Well Has Run Dry”), piano pop (“Maggie”) and—dare I call it this—a power ballad that's lighter-in-the-air worthy (“Heaven Knows”). I'm surprised the guy didn't try his hand at rapping.

The lyrics are still problematic. While his voice makes it easier for you to buy his earnestness, La- Monaca mostly works in vagaries and clichés. Still, if guys like Sting and Alex Chilton have proven anything, it's that you don't have to be Shakespeare to get your point across. The Lament of Tumbleweed Hawk is not a perfect album. However, it is a giant creative leap forward for LaMonaca, and it gets better with repeated listens. If his lyrical skills catch up with his musicianship by the next record, he just might have a masterpiece on his hands.

Jesse LaMonaca & The Dime Novels play with Blackout Party, The Black Sands and The Fire Eaters at The Casbah on Saturday, Feb. 18. jesselamonaca.com. Email editor@sdcitybeat.com or follow Seth on Twitter at @combsseth.


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