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Cedarwell
Gamboge
(self-released)
www.cedarwell.com


For the past few years Cedarwell, comprised of singer/guitarist Erik Neave and percussionist Joel Stokdy (with occasional appearances by Aching Wings front man Zach Vinson) have offered solid, stripped-down folk-rock akin to Johnny Cash and Mason Jennings. Though small in number, the two continue to bring their electrifying passion to stage. Such charisma has fueled their constant touring over the past couple years, gaining loyal followers everywhere from their hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin to colleges across Michigan and in popular venues throughout Boston, Massachusetts. Now on their full length release Gamboge, Cedarwell's trademark minimalism is re-invented with a fuller, edgier sound that brews together blues, hard rock, and even a little punk. The result is a stellar, infectious album.

"Wake Up!" is, hands down, Gamboge's standout track. It's a foot-stomping, confident rocker fueled by Neave's soaring, earthy melodies, clever lyrics, and Stokdy's tight rhythms. A good old fashioned road trip tune, with its narrator traveling "from Carolina to California," searching "every stone for some soft place" to lay his head. And the whole time he's moving or resting, he's also "dreaming of her face" and "spilling poems on a napkin to try and save some space." "Wake Up!" is perfect from beginning to end and possibly one of the year's best.

Another solid track is the somber, broken hearted "Wisconsin Skies." As it begins, "I learned to fall in love under Wisconsin skies/She knocked me on my feet and plucked out both my eyes/Now I could never see anything but her face and that was alright." What strengthens this song is its unique structure. Instead of a basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus framework, the track uses a repetitive lyric technique. Each verse paints a different picture of Wisconsin skies, sometimes illustrating "clean Wisconsin skies", other times "stale Wisconsin skies". The result makes for a colorful, vivid depiction of how much love (or its loss) changes how one sees their surroundings, positively and negatively.

Though Cedarwell typically goes for a mellow folk sound, the robust, power-chord driven "Lacerations" allows the band to experiment with their style. Like "Wisconsin Skies," "Lacerations" creates vivid scenes that root the song in an actual place, turning it into an experience. Neave's vocals are strongest here, as he belts "button up your collar babe because Boston is getting cold/ something like Sheboygan wind when October unfolds/this time of year the leaves will fall and fill your hands with gold/then turn into lacerations." This song manifests Cedarwell's greatest strength: an ability to blend the poetic with place. Their work is never too abstract, but rather sets listeners in certain towns and cities, thus making the songs realistic and beautiful. This is a rare talent that countless songwriters have difficulty pulling off.

One of the most inventive tracks on Gamboge is the quirky "Spider." Shifting from basic rock to upbeat jazz, "Spider" shows off a more experimental change in Cedarwell's style. "I will not dance in your parade, I will not sing" Neave proclaims in one of the songs many unexpected shifts.

Cedarwell is certainly a band on the move. Not only will their busy touring schedules certainly keep them moving, but this fantastic album is sure to keep their audience expanding. And though their previous EP's are solid efforts, Gamboge is a stellar full-length debut, crafted with a songsmith's touch and a passion for authentic rock n' roll.

-Justin Stover

Track Listing:
1. Weirdest Places
2. Spider!
3. Wake Up!
4. Wisconsin Skies
5. Lacerations!
6. Pass By
7. I Don't Know
8. Darling
9. September
10. Cannot Stand The Waiting
11. Wait Until Tomorrow Comes

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