It almost seems a tradition nowadays that a band member will see one of it’s talents step into the spotlight alone and take a stab at the solo album.
Ah, the solo album, the lone path that most music artists dream of taking. A chance to grab hold of the artistic reins and steer yourself down a path guided only by instinct, vision and measured up with some talent. While some are able to rise to the challenge and establish themselves as a bona-fide music artist, others veer into a path of self-indulgence and risk alienating their listeners. In the case of the latter, it is best to remain in the confines of a band where the collective sound of the group will lead a steadying and re-assuring guide to demonstrating one’s musical talent.
Nat Baldwin is another talented musician eager to strike out in solo-land in pursuit of his own musical glory. Having sharpened and refined his talent as a bassist and cellist within the Dirty Projectors, he has released “People Changes”, an offering of songs that he penned back in 2007 and decided to take his time to allow the arrangements of each track to evolve. It is commendable that Baldwin took his time with the album, calling upon a select few musicians to assist him in achieving the intimate, live sound that he clearly favours throughout the album.
In terms of achieving a specific feel and demonstrating talent and artistry, the album succeeds. There is no doubt that Nat Baldwin is a skilled instrumentalist and a confident vocalist and his ability to take his talents and turn it into a sparse, melancholy sound that echoes his New Hampshire origins are the shining points on this album. Immediately, the album sweeps the listener in on a wave of intimate lyrics and cello with the opening track “A Little Lost”. Nat’s vocals shine on this tracks as he sings with confidence, conviction and deftly nurtures his emotive falsetto in certain parts of the track. The follow up track “Weights” picks up where the first leaves and while maintaining a cabin-like intimacy, it gets a bit more experimental. From here, Baldwin starts to veer in a different artistic direction as he changes his cello and introduces short bursts of additional instrumentation to the track. It leaves a tremendous build-up within the listener and an assurance that the best is yet to come.
And this is where “People Changes” drops the ball.
After the first two tracks, it seems that Baldwin is intent on challenging and confusing the listener. The cello that grips the listener on the first two tracks makes an appearance on each remaining track on the album, but it sorely lacks the intimate sweep and power of the album openers. As each track progresses, the build up gets lost amid a jarring confusion of incessant vocal word play and odd bursts of horns and strings that do not connect with the tracks. Most notably are the tracks “Same Things” and “Lifted” which sound like a mess of jazz that does not build up to any conclusion. Amidst the confusion the album demonstrates is a nod to his group The Dirty Projectors on “Real Fakes”, which is the only other highlight on the album. By the end of the album, it feels as if Baldwin is set out to punish his listener and only when the last track comes to a close that you can breath a sigh of relief.
As mentioned before, a solo project can be a testament to one’s talent and artistic ability or a chance to fall deep into self-indulgence. While there is no doubt regarding Nat Baldwin’s talent and potential, “People Changes” can best be described as a void of non-sensical noise that needs to be tempered with some sense of song-writing composition and musical structure. Thankfully for Baldwin, he always has the Dirty Projectors to go back to.