CD Review: Paul Sikes – Craft (7-Layer, 2012)
Paul Sikes is a rarity among Nashville country artists – a hometown boy. There are many Tennesseans in the industry, but those actually born in Music City, such as Deana Carter, Hank Williams III and Matraca Berg, are surprisingly rare. Sikes goes one step farther, in that he’s not the child of a professional musician; though both his parents are musical, he moved from childhood piano lessons to guitar to songwriting, and eventually to a college education in both performance and the music business. He’s worked as a publishing house songwriter (landing cuts with Emerson Drive, Billy Dean and others), but his background as both a performer and producer has led to this charming self-produced release.
Sikes sings with a sweetness that may remind you of Vince Gill, and like Gill, he’s also an accomplished picker. He’s quite soulful, as shown in the shuffling beat of the Little Feat-influenced opener, “Show You Now,” and as a writer, he finds original twists on well-worn themes. His fish-out-of-water story, “Swear I’m in a Small Town,” views big city experiences through the hometown memories he shares with his mate, and “A Seed” is sung from the perspective of a tree whose humble beginnings provides inspirational stories of possibilities. He couches the breakup of “Tin Man” in self depreciation, and sings the love song “Me, You and Malibu” as easy, supper-club jazz.
Sikes is a meticulous producer and engineer, giving the album’s title meaning beyond the songwriting. There are a few modern instrumental touches and some strings, but the clarity of the voices and guitars is the album’s calling card. The variety of styles plays like a songwriter’s demo reel, with acoustic country and blues, electric country-rock, inspirational melodies and swinging rhythms all sharing space. The CD (currently only available at Sikes’ shows) closes with a hidden bluegrass track written by Sikes’ proud Tennessean grandmother, Mildred Joyce. “My Home Tennessee” provides a sweet, home-spun ending to this finely crafted album of original Nashville song.