Avram Brown titled his album and project name The Wheel, and it fits because this ten-song set covers a cycle of emotions. Many times, these are sad emotions. Then again, some of these lyrics speak to his 14-year marriage falling apart recently, so much sadness would be expected surrounding that marital casualty.
However, let’s start with the album’s outlier first, shall we? Titled “Almuerzo con Carney,” the track is an instrumental driven by a wailing saxophone part. It’s jazz, bordering on free jazz, which ends with an extended piano chord fade-out. It’s like a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ sort of track that will cause you to take a double take at the track list. ‘Is this one really on the album?’ you may well ask. It’s only a couple minutes long, but man is it fun!
Piano is the album’s primary instrument. So, for instance, even though Tom Petty-esque electric guitar introduces “Speak Like Droning,” piano soon takes centerstage. Brown sings with a slightly quivery vocal tone throughout these heartfelt songs. One of the album’s singles, “Coyote Mask” is built around spikey keyboard effects. It also includes full backing vocal sections in places.
Brown’s melancholy is probably best expressed through “Love & Truth.” It’s an inward-looking song that was clearly inspired by life events that make one wonder about the really big questions, such as, ‘What is love, what is truth?’ It has an orchestral-type arrangement, and includes some truly lovely electric guitar work, which again brings a little jazz into the overall sonic mix. The mood of this song might remind you of Beck’s Sea Change album, which was another work that covered similar lyrical territory. On “Can’t Find You,” Brown is heard to ask, “Which way is home?” Over a sonic vibe that rolls a little like ‘70s era Pink Floyd, Brown even asks to be reminded of his very name. Although the song’s melody is pretty, poor Brown sounds disoriented. When life hits you hard and spins you all around, this can leave you lost and directionless. This is how Brown sounds on the track. There is also an orchestral feel to this one.
“River Is Up” features Haley Johnsen singing with Brown. Johnsen is a former American Idol contestant, and her accompanying vocal gives this slow, meditative track a nice feminine touch. It adds to the album’s variety, as Brown sings everything else on it.
The album closes with “Northern Lights,” which strips the arrangement down to mostly just Brown and an acoustic piano. Brown’s voice sounds a tad scratchy in places, which gives it a truly raw feel. This Brown stripping away most all the extra elements so he can apply just the instrumental basics. There is also a string part that adds empathetic accompaniment to Brown’s performance.
What’s great about wheels is that they keep turning. They may be in a bad place now, but only temporarily. Eventually, though, they return to a highpoint. With this album The Wheel turns through many of the darker phases of a journey. Some places along the way cannot be avoided. The Wheel visits these troublesome points with true beauty and sincerity.