Adam & I – Self-Titled
This self-titled debut album by Nashville husband and wife duo Adam and Andrea Melia and known as Adam & I – is a simple, stripped down old-fashioned inspired folk journey brought up to date — superbly and with discreet panache. Andrea vocally, is reminiscent of Joan Baez’s late sister Mimi Farina – with her crystal clear buoyant folk infused vocals. Adam, who, when wearing his black rimmed glasses looks like he may have been the third brother in The Proclaimers – has that male retro folk voice that made so many 1960’s folk singers so compelling. He sings in a register that’s in the tradition of old school Richard Farina, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush and (Phil Ochs with a few singing lessons.) I always thought Phil’s voice was good for the message he was trying to convey but too thin to have any authority. When Adam supports his wife Andrea or when he sings lead – the atmosphere and mood is Greenwich Village rich. Especially the track “Searching for Salvation.”
The title suggests — perhaps — some 60’s radical liberal Columbia University type rant but, it really doesn’t. There are no songs here that challenge the status quo. It’s relaxed and anchored in 2014 and if nothing else, the duo are reinforcing the ideology that maybe some of us are still searching for whatever those singers from yesterday were singing about. But, here Adam and I are sounding quite refreshed in their musical approach and invigorated in their presentation.
“Honey, I’ll Take the Fall for Loving You,” is a brilliantly executed country-rocker from the Gram Parson’s school of songwriting – or could have been. Andrea is singing just under the surface in a very Emmylou Harris style. Adam sings in Gram Parson’s “voice” suggesting early attempts at conjoining country bite with rock attitude. It’s unique and this melodic jaunty tune with strong and confident country inflections is a pleasure. This suggested to me — in some respects — what Gram Parson may have been doing today. But it’s actually what Adam & I are doing today. Taking that clever Gram Parson’s approach a level higher, polishing it and reminding the rest of us just how good an idea Gram originally had. In the live version on YouTube below — Andrea’s piano bangs out beautifully in a rock and roll style with Adam blowing a strong mouth harp. The live version, just Adam and Andrea actually improves upon the album version.
“If I’m Taken,” is a reflective, sad tune with excellent harmony between the married duo. This is more piano driven with Adam’s sincere, warm voice and sounds as if it’s the kind of song most singers who don’t write their own material would cover. A mournful clear cello by Joshua Toholsky deepens the tone of the message and when singing together toward the end, Adam and Andrea really strike some emotional chords. What is impressive as well, is that the songs conveyed show that Adam & I even sound like they believe in their material — and that is everything.
All the instruments except for the cello, are played by Adam & I (Andrea) and though it sounds spare, the intensity is in the vocals and songwriting skills. Each song has strength and the duo has written some fine songs that don’t loiter around the same sound from track to track. Obviously, on this effort they have a wealth of melodic ideas. Each song has a signature. “Preacher Man,” starts mellow but kicks in nicely with powerful instrumentation and vocals as it proceeds. Lyrics are in a righteous mold but not that in your face type of gospel religion manner. These songs have restrained optimism in them, you need to listen closely and a little lesson will unfold, a moral suggested. In this day, that in itself can go a long way because most commercial singers and songwriters — as tough as they think they are with their suggestive words and daring dance moves — wouldn’t touch the approach of writing something literate — for fear of alienating a percentage of their audience or dare I say it — assuming their audience wouldn’t get “it” anyway. Audience consideration? Did Bob Dylan, during his Christian phase have second thoughts? Did he reconsider his direction? Was he concerned about alienating his audience at all? No, he just did it. Took the risk. It’s one of those forms great entertainers will conjure from time to time. However, Adam & I are clearly laying out their map for those who will follow now and they are not restraining themselves.
“I’ll Be Around,” brings Andrea into the lead vocal position and she ignites some sizzling vocals. Again we have a great mouth-harp that threads its way through the tune over crisp acoustic guitars. Simple, with an effective Adam & I dynamic.
“Be Here With Me,” has a somewhat juvenile vocal by Adam – sounds younger than he really is – maybe that was the plan but judging from the vocal approach and reading the lyrics I hope that was his intention because it works. It sounds like someone who is fragile; looking for some strength from someone he loves. Piano is melodic and Andrea’s supporting voice gives lift to the sadness. The song is rich in an easy-going way. Most songwriters can’t write a song this simple and beautiful — and at the same time actually tell a story.
A little echo on the vocals and “Open for Business,” adds sting to its excellent lyric that I can hear audiences singing back at the duo loudly at a live show – “I said hey, come back another day, we ain’t open for business, said hey….”
Oh yeah, that will get some audience participation for sure. Forget the hand-clapping, the sign of truly great audience participation is when they sing your song back to you. Just ask Joan Armatrading when she sings her intense classic “Willow.” This Adam & I song shows some very clever lyrics, and what is really good — it shows that the duo has a sense of humor. Audiences like that, especially when the vocals are also intriguing as it fades into a chilling acappella…
And that’s it.
I believe my only criticism that can be added to this review is the question — 8 songs? That’s all? The acappella vocal just suddenly ends the album. But, it was a refreshing listen that didn’t have many negative angles or nasty rants. There was a formative approach to each tune, almost as if some may have been from experience and not merely written at random. Its simplicity was refined, subtle and had a loveliness to it. Especially in today’s music market where much of the music is aggressive, in your face, and posing issues with no solutions.
So what does that make Adam & I’s music? Escapism? Hardly. It’s a little more than just entertainment though. This duo expresses themselves in a manner where most listeners can indeed relate. Is it soulful? No, not in a Black way. Not very funky, not very repetitive and rudimentary. What it is, is sincere. Can be compelling. When the last song ended, I was a little suspended…then disappointed…then pleased. It was just enough. It was the same feeling you get when go to a good restaurant and you have eaten a really delicious tasty meal. You feel satisfied. You unbutton that belt, or last button, you inhale with satisfaction. You don’t even need dessert. That’s the music of Adam and I. It doesn’t end with an over-stuffed feeling, you accept the fact that they have told you what you needed to know and that’s all you will need…for now, until next time. And why is it that so? Because their music is delicious.
Not all good music needs to be soulful or funky. It doesn’t even have to have a groove. This music gives me a satisfying listening experience and because there were tunes I went back to several times – that was the sign that something had been cooked and served up well.
And most importantly, despite having been recorded in Nashville, TN – it doesn’t have that cookie cutter stamped out of music city sound. Kudos to the producer and Adam & I for keeping a tab on what they were attempting to produce. Although this is somewhat of a new take on an old idea – it is an old idea that waited very long to be revived by two capable people.
Unfortunately, if they want to get heard, or attract attention, they may have to write something next time a little more daring and controversial. But, like Tom Waits once said – and it went something like this – he said he liked to listen to sad, or dark songs that had happy melodies. I am certain Adam and I have that ability.
Adam & I’s CD art is a 4 page reinforced die-cut cardboard package with colorful 4 page insert with lyrics to the tunes. All music and lyrics were written by Adam — both he and Andrea produced the CD.
Andrea Melia – Vocals-Mandolin-Piano-Keyboards-Guitar
Adam Melia – Vocals-Guitars-Percussion-Mouth Harp
Visit Adam & I’s website for the actual CD artwork for this debut CD — copies I had access to did not upload properly.
Listen to samples of their music on iTunes, Spotify, Noisetrade & Briterevolution.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request.
John Apice / No Depression / July 2014