Garrison Starr: Amateur
It may be strange for a music industry veteran to title their seventh full-length album Amateur, but that is exactly what Garrison Starr did. There is more than one reason for the name according to Starr. “Before picking (the title), I looked the word up to get the official dictionary definition, and it said someone who does something for the love of it and not for money,” said the singer-songwriter. “Also, I feel like I’m starting over in so many different ways as an artist because I’m in such a different place now in my career and in my life. I just feel like it’s a fresh start, and so I thought it was apropos for that reason, as well.” It is obvious that this album wasn’t created by a newcomer; its strong lyrics, ear-pleasing melodies, and rich vocals had to come from an experienced talent.
Mississippi-born Starr is considered an indie/folk/pop/country/rock artist; this album is a melting pot for those genres with heavy flavoring of country and pop. “The Train That’s Bound for Glory,”“I May Not Let Go,” and “Empire State Building” have a country twang and plucky guitar. I had to check to make sure that “Train” wasn’t a cover of a country standard, it sounds like a classic. Grammy-winning country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, whom Starr met on early Lilith Fair tours, sings backing vocals on “I May Not Let Go.” Though the above listed songs are country, other songs are pure pop/rock. Electric piano and a guitar wah pedal give “When Nobody Was Looking” more of an edge than the rest of the album, but it would still fit in the rotation on as easy rock station. Each song has a pleasant pop element, pleasing the ear with well-produced combinations of guitar, piano, lead and backing vocals, drums and bass.
The lyrics are the result of soul-searching. “Other People’s Eyes” and “When You’re Really Trying” feature introspective lyrics, each hint at the difficulties in trying to break into the music industry but are easily relatable to those in other industries. The words teem with advice for those who feel like they’re floundering, especially the chorus in “To Garrison on Her 29th Birthday:” “you can’t decide what a heart decides, you can’t love what you don’t love inside, you can’t change what can’t be changed…”Many cities and states are named throughout the album, especially on “Between the Devil’s Rain and a Dying Language,” which tells the story of a weary touring musician who looks to return home. There are also themes of trains, travel, running/escaping, which could all be related to a touring musician or can be viewed in a broader sense. “The Day the Rains Came to Schoharie” has religious themes of sins being washed away in biblical rains and faith being tested over 40 days and 40 nights.
Starr’s vocals are unique and beautiful. The closest comparison to be is a slightly deeper, richer Emmylou Harris or Martha Wainwright. They adapt to each song, from the country tracks mentioned earlier to pop songs like “Keep Your Head Down.” The MP3 available below is of “I May Not Let Go,” a great example of Starr’s mournful country vocals accompanied by simple instruments and backing vocals by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
MP3: Garrison Starr “I May Not Let Go”
Garrison Starr: Amateur