Like the early morning rays peering through the cracks at dawn, there is an intangible quality to Jarrod Gorbel’s voice. It is like an awakening, a vast serenity that evokes an almost immeasurable amount of contrasting emotions. His voice is as moving (and sometimes more so) as any music can be; but is as comforting as a well-liked old friend. It shakes and shimmers, cracks, and echoes as it paints from an aural palette of beautifully written Americana. It leaves an indelible mark on his craft and it always has, from the earliest of his material under the Honorary Title moniker, to his brand new solo material, Gorbel’s voice is the silhouette in which all his art is cast in.
Devil’s Made a New Friend could have easily been the follow up to Scream And Light Up The Sky, yet it doesn’t aim to be. It’s not as urgent as the last few Honorary Title albums, but boasts far more vivid textures. The songs take their cue from the topics that have always fuelled his storytelling; personal growth and pain, love and loss, and the understanding of life as you travel down beaten paths and cobblestoned roads through big cities and small towns. But there seems to be a great deal more patience here. There are more string accompaniments, lush keys and floaty riffs; products of more refined songwriting searching for a wider acceptance.
From the opening “Extraordinary” to the single “I’ll Do Better”, it is clear there exists a certain calmness to the material. Fit for Sunday afternoons and lazy evenings, the territory covered topically is often more of a desperate nature. A twinge of sadness and melancholia that is both beautiful and moving. In the aforementioned single, he sings with strange perfection white flag notions of personal acceptance; “Taking me forever to accept this weakness / That I’ve been defeated / I need help, I need you”.
The reworked (full band) version of the previously released “Ten Years Older” (from the terrific EP of the same name) gets a more layered treatment here. The acoustic version was the EP’s most harrowing song- a look at life some ten years down the road where the protagonist discovers that it has in many aspects, passed him by. The percussions and added guitars have given it in a little more depth, but it doesn’t change the emotional pull of the song. When Gorbel sings, with great conviction; “One day you woke up ten years older / Taken prisoner like a soldier / You left your home for what seemed noble / Give anything to do it over”, there is an immediate connection to it. It feels a lot like the possibilities of life stunted by its unpredictable path of choices, addiction, and circumstance.
There are luscious “oohs and aahs” here and there (in “Need For Control”) and there is a slight smoky lounge (dare say, at times baroque-ish in its simplicity) sheen to “Take Me” that comes across as a meeting between The High Llamas and Dean Wareham & Britta Phillips. But it all comes through with ample grace.
Produced by Blake Sennett (of Rilo Kiley fame), Devil’s Made a New Friend is a very assured debut. His music has always worked on a very straightforward acoustic pedestal- buoyed of course by that inescapable voice. The work here however, is his attempt to make the sound distinctly more palatable (in a good way). It is every bit soul-infused serenade as it is a beautiful pop record. It is perhaps Gorbel’s finest outing to date and the comfort found here is quintessential Americana. Recommended, highly.
Jarrod Gorbel – I’ll Do Better (from the album Devil’s Made a New Friend)