His 2011 release, “Lose Me in the Sand,” sees him reinventing himself as a desert troubadour, but he’s a little less successful there. It’s a good album, but it doesn’t excel, as his previous incarnation did.
“Lose Me in the Sand” is written primarily on banjo, and Growden uses it in pieces frantic (“John Hardy”), funny (“Star Spangled Benz”) and forlorn (“Bones,” “I’m on Fire”). Just as in his previous disc, he skews toward the “dark and slow” idiom, but his preferred style is not as easily applicable to the desert country genre as it was to New Orleans jazz. None of the songs here are bad, but some don’t connect with the listener the way the gritty tunes of “Saint Judas” did.
“Takin’ My Time” almost sounds like a B-side from the previous album, with the crawling pace and mournful cast over the proceedings. It’s good, but ionly tangentially fits the country vibe he’s going for. The stark “Lovin’ Emma” comes off as creepy instead of affectionate, while “You Ain’t Never Been Loved” has a similar quandary.
But when he speeds up and lets it twang a bit, as in “Killing Time” and the charming “Settle in a Little While,” he succeeds in writing country songs that resonate with the soul and within the conventions of the genre.
Growden’s predilection for sad and lonesome things found a home in New Orleans jazz, and it’s hard to break out of something that comfortable. “Lose Me in the Sand” is good, but it has one foot in country and the other in jazz. This creates some great tunes, as well as some odd ones that don’t feel at home in either place.
Fans of Growden will celebrate his unique songwriting style shining through, no matter what genre he’s in; first-time listeners may scratch their heads a bit. Catch him at 8 p.m. March 16 at Istvan Gallery, 1218 N. Western. —Stephen Carradini