There are two assumptions that could be drawn when you listen to any album which seems to wander between a whole range of genres and heads off to explore various musical tangents. Either the artist is unfocused, inconsistent, perhaps even unsure of themselves or they feel unbound by generic convention and they chose the style and sound of a song based on what best fits with what they are trying to say. Dick Aven definitely falls squarely into the latter category.
But that isn’t to say that there isn’t a sort of loose generic consistency to what he does, it is easy to hear folky vibes and roots structures, acoustic drives and singer-songwriter directions of travel at the heart of his songs, it is just that he is very good at using such traditions and traits as a spring-board and then launches himself into the air, gently pulling in other neat sounds, influences and inspirations as he soars.
This Is How I Am kicks things off perfectly, setting the pace with a wave of baritone ukulele, a key instrument throughout the album, and hand-held percussion, a contemporary folk slice running gradually into more pop-like territory as a gorgeously meandering bass line helps add additional weight and wonder. Too Far Gone is a similarly introspective acoustic piece, perhaps walking a more shaded and melancholy line but bristling with passion, restrained and brilliantly underplayed. You feel a younger or less worldly-wise man taking on such a theme would have just ended up wallowing in self-pity, but Dick Aven is smarter than that and the end result is something relatable and honesty rather than self-deprecating and pity-some.
Moments Face to Face is a wonderful change of direction, a singer-songwriter sound shot through with 60’s vibes, klezmer and jazz infusions and the merest hint of classic Gilbert O’Sullivan’s reflective chamber-pop style hanging in the air. The title track has a lovely lilting, sashaying beat propelling it through a romantic narrative, brass runs add both additional staccato drama and sweet peripheral melodies.
Glorious Flashes of Light sees Aven at his most unadorned just a voice, a gentle bass and beat, and an acoustic guitar but the scope and scale of the song, its soaring heights, its minimal lows, its space and spark, inspirations and aspirations, its emotive lyrics, make it one of the most powerful tracks on the album. And finally, Perpetual Weekend, a jazz-infused, cinematic instrumental reminding us just how gifted a musician Dick Aven is, the sublime, wandering sax, the perfectly placed bass notes, the chiming piano and ukulele touches, the poised percussion, all the work of the main man, as is everything that you hear on this album.
You would find this album extraordinary, even if it were an ensemble piece with Dick Aven at its helm, the way that most recordings are approached. To realise that all the writing, playing, recording and a lot of the post-production is all the work of this talented guy makes you wonder way more people haven’t heard of him. And if you think that there is no place in the modern music industry for the DIY musician, you are right. But only because such musicians saw such a career path as being too limiting and instead chose their own way through the great sonic game. I’m guessing that had Dick Aven been subject to the slings and arrows of a recording contract, this album would never have got made. So, thank you Dick Aven for having enough confidence and rebelliousness for following your own path.