James Apollo - Til Your Feet Bleed
It's getting so a man can't wear his heart on his sleeve without being slagged for being either a wuss or a devotee of long dead Springsteen-isms. Derivative has been the word used to most describe the new James Apollo, at least from the reviews I've read. And while there really is nothing new on "Til your Feet Bleed," there is a poignant, carnivalesque feel to many of these songs; they may be undermined by Apollo's often flat, semi-operatic vocals, vocals that seem to be trying to add the epic and profound into songs whose depths are already there in their minimal intimacy.
That intimacy is engaged powerfully right from the start. The short instrumental "Oil On A Trashcan" leads into "For Now," which build off of similar melodies that are stark and beautiful. Apollo's use throughout of clarinet and accordion is a gentle but masterly stroke, adding emotional counterpoint effortlessly. Similarly, "Pray for Rain" and "How Hard" find power in the simple line, the simple story, in understated vocals. It is when Apollo tries to go for the epic that he trips himself up.
It seems like he was trying to work out "Be Still, "No West, No East," and others as epics, but the value of the songs sinks under the weight of louder singing and more insistent melodies. There may be hope for those ambitions down the road, as the closing "Theme From Through And Through" does manage a bit of believable drama from its simple harmonies.
"Til your Feet Bleed" is a heartfelt little record with a few genuine gems, but a record where sometimes the composer is tone-deaf to his own strengths. James Apollo has the gift of making the simple, brittle moment come alive. Were he to be satisfied with that, at least in the short term, the epic would happen all by itself.
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