Andrew Kerr, Alan Norman, and the Scarborough Connection’s For the Record won me over with a single listen. Each additional pass through the album’s eight tracks only solidified my initial impression that the aforementioned performers/songwriters/musicians have locked into a mutual groove they will be able to sustain for many albums to come.
It’s an auspicious first release. The project is careful to never bite off any more than they can chew relying on a little more than thirty minutes of music, but the individual weight of each song adds up to a significant, rather than disposable, listening experience. It’s Americana through and through, but never riddled with the customary cliches weighing down such material.
They open the release with “Black River”. This track depends on a riffing approach to acoustic guitar playing – the muscular physicality that Kerr, Norman, and the Scarborough Connection bring to this performance is impossible to forget. The lyrics are just as exceptional, however, as the project’s way with words shows a bent toward specificity and flashes of pure poetry that pair well with the musical arrangement. I think this is a perfect opener.
“Roll On” is another peak moment for me. The syncing up of the song’s hard-driving, yet low-key, guitar and percussive piano doubling the guitar work gives this track much of its musical glory. You can’t deny the energy it generates and it’s impressive to me how the participants keep it under wraps, for the most part. “Petrichor” isn’t penned by Kerr or Norman, but they nonetheless tackle it as if it’s ripped from their personal autobiography. It’s a highlight for piano playing on this album and the work on the keys further distinguishes it as one of For the Record’s weightier tracks. It sticks with you.
The songwriters and musicians continue mixing blues and folk with the song “Archie and George” while avoiding any cliches. The vocals and lyrics stand out from this number and the somewhat downcast demeanor of the arrangement nonetheless reveals a layered approach that holds the listener’s attention. I rate this among the album’s better all-around compositions. “One Kiss” is much more outwardly playful than several of the album’s other songs and may seem, on initial listen, like a throwaway. It isn’t. It glows with effervescent energy from the outset yet remains tasteful from the first note to the last.
Kerr and Norman’s wont for musical diversity goes on with the penultimate track. “Something Beginning with You” has a gentle sway thanks to its familiar tempo and it helps beguile listeners such as myself into sticking around for every word and note. “Raise the Road” closes For the Record with a journey back into rootsy realms with its invocation of unadulterated Irish folk music. Kerr and Norman, the former in particular, apply a popular music veneer over the track without ever cheapening its traditional effects.
I’m a big fan of this album. It doesn’t preen or pretend to be anything it isn’t, but it nonetheless practically crackles thanks to the fidelity it has for accurately rendering life’s experiences. It’s an intensely human collection of songs that you can return to time after time.