Something of a cross between folk and country, Simon George’s I Am the Wanderer: Tales from the Old West (released April 29th, 2019) is a throwback album, playing on classic themes and instrumentation throughout all of its nine tracks. Learning that George is from Nashville and glimpsing the album art, which features a train seeming to burst from an acoustic guitar is probably enough for you to get a sense of this album, but let’s dive in anyhow.
When I think of folk and country music I think of traditions, which leads me to think rules, repetition, formulas, all think that I’ll often list as detriments when reviewing an album. I’m always looking for something to shake the mould and so if I’m going to get into an album that affirms itself as traditional, it best fucking be mind-blowing. “The Mountains Calling” is a slow-building, acoustically driven six-minute exploration of where a folk song can go. Light percussion and piano supplement the guitar and George spins a nice yarn about getting out there and experiencing the big beautiful world, but it does not do any mind-blowing. “Save Your Tears for Sunday” comes in a few seconds under eight minutes! That’s prog territory and this track certainly doesn’t build in enough directions to require that amount of time and space. The result is that any highlights lose their poignancy and get mired in monotonous chord progressions.
George needs to aim more for that three to four-minute timeframe, which is better suited for this style of traditional songwriting. Bob Dylan can get away with writing folk odysseys but I don’t really know anyone else who can. “My Way Home” is much more concise; its bluesy piano bars carry the weight of the song and allow the guitar to navigate the lesser beaten path. George’s vocals don’t strain too much on this one and remain cool and casual. Folk tunes will often strive on the less is more vocal approach and George has a decent enough voice to just let it ride in the sidecar.
Sometimes being a wanderer can lead you to great discoveries and sometimes you can get a bit lost, I’d say with a more streamlined song approach, George will be on his way to making better discoveries.
Written by Lee Ferguson
*edited by Danielle Kenedy