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Apt Cafe, Taipei - 11/2/13

Reviews of Midwest CD

Antoine Legat | Rootstime.be
‘Everything of worth is harmless’, Lucebert once wrote, a poet who seems doomed to survive on that one phrase. When he wrote it, he must have had something like this CD by Adam James Sorensen before his eyes and in his ears. As we are terribly spoiled listeners, it doens’t happen often anymore that we become enchanted from the first notes on and get transported into a completely new universe, one that dates from before the original sin. That’s exactly what happened when we put on ‘Midwest’ for the first time. It is seldom that we hear an LP or CD start off in such a frail, brittle and disarming way. We were moved while listening to ‘Suburban Rock And Roll’, enchanted, bewildered, dismayed. And then ‘Chicago River’ floated by, and ‘With Your Radio On’ (waw!)…and ‘Desperation’: with no great shift or variation in atmosphere this singer-songwriter from Chicago succeeded time and again to tempt, catch and enchant us. ‘Midwest’ is nothing less than balm for the wounded soul.

Neil Young’s country lies close to Chicago, we were just thinking, but here’s not just one weeping willow, it’s a whole forest. The usual diaeresis on his last name (Sörensen or even Sørensen) has long been lost, generations ago, when his forefathers came to the promised land from Scandinavia, probably, but when a young and restless Sorensen left Chicago, he will not have surmised that his coming back, after so many wanderings in his own country and in Europe, would have such an impact on his state of mind. A heart simply never completely deserts its home. That homecoming inspired him to write exactly these songs, that each shed a light on one aspect of this process [to make a complete picture]. Number eight, ‘Shadows In The Snow’, comes along with brushed percussion, with clouds of guitar, bass, violin, cello, as soft as snowflakes, and still the emotion is just right, still Adam James hits the right chord and forces us to look out of the window, in search of snow and chilly sparrows in vain looking for food. And it’s August, by golly!

Alt.folk producer Evan Brubaker is not unknown, to say the least. On the other hand, the guest musicians aren’t familiar names, but apparently have played with respectable artists, the likes of Bill Frisell, Beck, Henry Threadgill and Laura Cantrell. Only Rachel Harrington, singer from Seattle, rings a bell (but, ssst, not too loud, please…) These people frame the tender, nostalgic sounding voice (*) of Adam James so respectfully, delicately and skilfully as possible, temperate, with a keen sense of detail and, as far as one can measure, with complete empathy. Sometimes you’d like to crawl into the speakers to hear every innuendo. ‘Northside’ is the song before last and it seems like Adam James continuously conjures up even better songs, although by then we were blown away (admittedly, in a soft breeze) by ‘People Start Fires’ and ‘Winter Song’ and… actually everything we got to listen to. With every new tune, you want to say: ‘This is the best up ‘til now’. As well in ‘Northside’ as in the closing tune ‘Stranger’ mandolin player Don Stiernberg, apparently a legend in and around Chicago, goes for the crowning moment, the coronation of what can be considered a flawless journey.

For forty seven minutes Adam James Sorensen reconciles the susceptible listener with the tears, the toil and the gnashing of teeth of this earthly life, through ‘Midwest’, bathing in a soothing Sehnsucht (spleen) Some got the Nobel Prize for Peace for far less good reasons.

Antoine Légat (this translation October 25th 2013)

(*) AJ sometimes really sounds like Erik Vandenberge, though this name might say nothing to most… In small circles, he’s rightfully viewed as a genuine, authentic talent. Erik came from lively Rotterdam but now lives modestly in the low countryside near the sea, in Zeeland and makes punky records with Crappy Dog, but before he produced a number of dreamy bucolic songs with minimal means, good stuff indeed.

– Antoine Legat, Rootstime

Remo Ricaldone | The Long Journey (Italiano)
Chicago è sempre stata una città catalizzatrice per quanto riguarda la scena folk e cantautorale americana, benigna quando si è trattato di accogliere e nutrire artisti legati a stili che si ricollegano ad una tradizione nobile e propositiva. E proprio da Chicago arriva questo debuttante con tutte le carte in regola per ridefinire gli stilemi di un genere che si rigenera e rinasce grazie alla sensibilità e alla musicalità di gente come Adam James Sorensen.
Dopo un lungo percorso artistico e personale che lo ha portato a viaggiare attraverso gli Stati Uniti e l’Europa per lunghi anni, Adam James Sorensen ha chiuso il cerchio tornando a casa e tirando le fila di quelle che sono state esperienze profonde e preziose. Midwest è un lavoro lungamente meditato e comunque lucido ed espressivo, maturo e ottimamente strutturato, con una produzione adulta grazie a Evan Brubaker, nome noto nella scena folk e indipendente e una serie di session men di talento come il chitarrista Mark Spencer, già con Son Volt e Laura Cantrell, Eyvind Kang il cui violino ha impreziosito le registrazioni di Bill Frisell e Beck, il mandolinista Don Stiernberg e le armonie vocali della brava cantautrice dell’area di Seattle Rachel Harrington.

Midwest è riflessivo e poetico, con canzoni solide interpretate con cuore e sentimento, un album che introduce una carriera decisamente promettente. Suburban Rock And Roll e Chicago River mostrano doti non comuni a livello compositivo, eccellenti biglietti da visita con la loro giusta dose di malinconia e di nostalgia, intriganti e melodicamente rilevanti. Personalmente molte delle canzoni presentate in questo Midwest mi ricordano, anche grazie all’artwork della confezione, i grandi cantautori canadesi che negli anni settanta ‘invasero’ il mercato con le loro atmosfere personali e penetranti. Desperation, Winter Song, Shadows In The Snow e Northside giocano sulle fascinazioni e sulle emozioni in modo delicato e sempre costruttivo.
Un disco molto interessante.

– Remo Ricaldone, The Long Journey

Fred Schmale | Real Roots Café
Na een paar hitjes in de rock ‘n roll periode met ‘The Belmonts’, waarvan ‘A teenager in love’ de grootste hit was kwam de Newyorker Dion Dimucci aan het begin van de jaren 70 op de proppen met een paar prachtige singer-songwriter LP’s, waarvan met name ‘Suite for late summer’ uit 1972 een subtiel juweel was. Aan die droevige, gevoelige LP moest ik sterk denken bij het beluisteren van ‘Midwest’, het solodebuut van gitarist/singer-songwriter Adam James Sorenson uit Chicago. Adam James zit al geruime tijd in de muziek, speelde als sideman in een aantal bands en was na een verblijf in Salt Lake City en vervolgens New York City een aantal jaren actief in Europa voordat hij in 2009 terug ging naar Chicago. Daar vond hij de inspiratie voor de elf gevoelige liedjes op zijn eerste CD. Uitsluitend ballads, met een donker ondertoontje getuige titels als ‘Desperation’ (met de onsterfelijke strofe: ‘Salt Lake girls are known for Jesus, their bright blue eyes and silky hair of gold. You hear the angel calling from the temple, she left me in the bathtub wanting more’), ‘People start fires’, ‘Shadows in the snow’, ‘Winter song’. Zijn omgeving komt voldoende aan bod: ‘Chicago river’ (‘Chicago river pullin’ me slow, bring this lonely boy back home to his family, the suburbian dream’) en ‘Midwest’ (‘Has the Midwest got you down, I see you hiding your rainy day frown’). Het glas is duidelijk steeds half leeg. In de subtiele begeleiding horen we Sorensen op nylon string gitaar, harmonica en drums en verder is er ruimte voor dobro, pedal steel, mandolin, cello, viola, piano en bas. Er zijn mooie string arrangementen, een paar keer horen we een voorzichtige elektrische gitaar, Rachel Harrington zingt mee in ‘Midwest’.

‘Midwest’ is een wegdroom CD met alleen maar subtiele en droevige liedjes. Adam James’ stem is gevoelig, somber monotoon. Ik werd zonder meer gegrepen door de muziek. Wie volgt?

“Everything of value is defenseless,” wrote poet Lucebert, apparently as Bredero with a statement ‘survives’. He must have been something like this CD of Adam James Sorensen to mind have stood. Auditory spoiled as we are, it does not happen too often that we at the first notes enchanted and transported in a totally new universe, one from before the Fall. That is exactly what happened when we ‘Midwest’ the first set. Rarely an LP or CD boot know in such frail, fragile, disarming way. We were thrilled when listening to “Suburban Rock And Roll ‘, tenderly, perplexed. And then came the ‘Chicago’ past, and “With Your Radio On” (waw!) … and ‘Desperation’: no great variation in the atmosphere knew this singer-songwriter from Chicago to charm us again and again, to captivate , to enchant. “Midwest” is nothing less than a balm for the wounded soul.

– Fred Schmale, Real Roots Café

Daniela Duron | The Celebrity Cafe
Adam James Sorensen’s album, Midwest, is a great folk album that shows off Sorensen’s talent through his strong vocals and deep lyrics. The album is perfect to listen to when you’re in the mood for calm and mellow tunes with great depth to them.

A Chicago native, Sorensen wanted to experience life and music in different cities around the world, so he decided to leave college and do just that. This led him to cities such as Salt Lake City, New York City and various cities around Europe, including Barcelona and Paris. After years in Europe, he decided to move back to Chicago, and his experience doing so is the main inspiration for the album, something that shines through his lyrics. It is evident that his Chicago roots are a big inspiration to the album, as the songs contain references to his home town and his journey back.

“Chicago River,” a definite favorite from the album, is a great example of this. Sorensen sings, “Chicago River, pulling me slow, bring this lonely boy back home to his family, the suburban dream … I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m taking a plane, hoping this time it won’t be the same. When I cross that sea, will I still find me? I’m leaving Chicago before it gets cold, the wind and the memories they get a hold. It’s a game, you see; it’s a hide and seek.”

These lyrics are great not only because you feel his emotion throughout the song, but because they are very relatable and he makes it easy for the listener to connect with them. Although Sorensen sings about his own experience, anyone with a similar kind of experience can relate it and it can trigger a memory or emotion, something a great album needs to have.

Some other favorites from the album are “Suburban Rock and Roll,” “People Start Fires,” and “Winter Song.”

Behind the lyrics and Sorensen’s vocals, the album also provides the work of talented musicians that helped Sorensen build the sound. This includes viola player Eyvind Kang, cello player Christopher Hoffman, mandolin player Don Stiernberg, singer-songwriter Rachel Harrington and Mark Spencer, who is skilled in various instruments. Sorensen also worked with alternative-folk producer Evan Brubaker.

Midwest is a great mix of a rich, easy sound and meaningful lyrics, a combination that any artist strives for.

– Daniela Duron, The Celebrity Cafe

Christopher Anderson | Victory Music
From the get, Sorensen’s lyric and vocal catches the ear with a soothing style that allows the production to simmer, augmenting this singer’s story. This is a bit of challenge as the product was recorded in four different studios, from Forgiveness in Tacoma, WA to the Tape Kitchen in Brooklyn, NY with a bounce back to Chicago, IL at the Observatory Studios and back to NY at Amme Studio in Brooklyn. The cool thing is that the production and treatment of instrumentation is always consistent and holds true.

Sorensen’s writing is laid back and allows his melodies and lyrics to shine. His writing is simple, but it would be a mistake to think it simplistic. Mr. Sorensen has honed his style and vibe very well. This is a soothing piece of listening, and that is rare these days. Not sure who Sorensen’s influences are, but his writing is perched on the Americana limb of listening and never overpowers the lyric, vocal or listener.

Sorensen has some great supporting musicians on this project who play sophisticated parts and voicings. The main enhancements to Sorensen’s nylon-stringed guitars come from stringed instruments — dobro, mandolin, cello, low profile electric-guitars, and a steady beat on drums. What I like most as I listen to the work is that it is packed full of great stories that remind this listener of such timeless acoustic recordings as “Blood On The Tracks.” Sorensen is a strong lyricist, and though his vocals are always understated, they resonate with a deep soulful approach that serves not only the singer, but also the production.

There is a peace in this work that is missed in most of the things I hear these days. Sorensen’s understated approach will have me listening to this CD for a while, as absorbing him in one sitting will not quite do. The title track, “Midwest,” is perhaps the strongest on the disc (that’s saying quite a bit with this work). The string arrangement lends support to this, and Sorensen’s vocal and lyric shine on this track.

This is one of the best pieces of work I have heard since Brian Cutler’s work a year ago or so. It is stripped down yet full, and harks back to times long ago when music was as it should be, focused on the artist. All in all, thi disc speaks volumes regarding thought-through lyrics and sparse, well-structured production. Sorensen should be getting some airplay off this recording, but at the end of the day, these are different times and this work is from another time and place. As stated earlier, it’s heading for my car and a drive.

– Christopher Anderson, Victory Music

Jerome Clark | Rambles.net
Through the window to my left, on this overcast day as damp and cold hover over the Upper Midwest, a big blizzard only hours away, I hear Adam James Sorensen singing, “It’s right outside your window / You can feel it in the air.” It’s on “Suburban Rock & Roll,” the opening cut of Midwest, which arrived with uncannily apposite timing in today’s mail. Each of its 11 self-composed songs, modern folk music of an interestingly distinctive sort, evokes the gloom and the darkness of the moment. It’s an album, too, about Chicago, where I once lived and where my children, now grown, still call home. All of this, I hardly need add, feels unsettlingly close for comfort.

Midwest operates within stark, acoustic textures, brilliantly arranged by the justly sought-after producer Evan Brubaker, who has a way with lyrical, doom-minded singer-songwriters of more than ordinary gifts. (I last encountered his work on Rachel Harrington’s Celilo Falls, which I reviewed in this space on 9 April 2011.) This is veteran road musician/sideman Sorensen’s first solo disc, cut on the occasion of his return home to his native Chicago after a long absence. Though nothing here has anything to do with the blues, it resounds with the mood of the late bluesman Johnny Shines’s “Too Wet to Plow,” one of the very finest songs anybody will ever write about the experience of staring through a window at the rain and contemplating darkness in all its dimensions.

More specifically, however, here and there Sorensen recalls the early folk-pop, gloriously bummed-out Paul Simon to mind, even in the coal-mining song “Stranger,” where the mining is as metaphorical as it is literal. As Simon’s were in those days, Sorensen’s vocals are weary and resigned. The tempos never exceed mid-, and the band, which for all I know may consist of wraiths, never rocks out. Love dies, life disappoints, landscapes turn to winter. (There’s even a “Winter Song.”) The songs are all of a theme, each painting what a 19th-century songwriter imagined as “a picture from life’s other side” where “someone has fell by the way / A life has gone out with the tide.”

Though the emotional range is hardly expansive, it doesn’t leave the impression that only one note is playing either. To the contrary, the story that stretches over the album’s 48 minutes feels both whole and particular. When he’s of a mind to write an old-fashioned ballad (as in story-song), Sorensen does it his own way — I refer here to the harrowing “Northside” — which is to waste no words as he lays the listener low.

On this afternoon as the storm, rolling in our direction from the West Coast, looms on the Midwest and Sorensen sings “The winter comes on wings of snow / It travels from the sea,” Midwest speaks with chilly eloquence and eerie precision. It’s a lovely record.

– Jerome Clark, Rambles.net

Bob Hill's Midwest CD Review
In his debut album, “Midwest,” Adam James Sorensen has gives us many spaces into which we can join him in living into his songs. As a collection, “Midwest” is introspective and edgy in a welcoming way. It is full of places to feel and think to the accompaniment of the artist’s musical style, which is at once both fresh and nostalgic. The music and lyrics called me back for one listening session after another – an experience I have only with music that goes past the point of entertaining me. When I first heard the lyric, “My savior lit the way with neon lights,” I smiled, choked back a tear, and I saw myself among the legions of people who have been seduced by the all the things that seduce us.

The songs that comprise “Midwest” are not the kind to be played on the jukebox in a loud honky-tonk, or in the company of your drinking buddies. They are better savored in the company of a warm fireplace, or in the dark of night, where they can seep into you – into your mind, into your heart, and into your soul. I feel quite sure that those were the personal places Sorensen drew on as he wrote his songs, and as he laid them down in the studio to share with us.

Some of the spaces that “Midwest” shares are as wide as the mouth of a canyon, easily accessed and open to us without posing any danger. My favorites, though, are the ones I had to squeeze into, with caution and care, trying to connect to the pain, nostalgia and truth about us all that’s not quite so comfortable. I doubt that many could listen to “People Start Fires” and not see their selves in there somewhere. Ah, vanity, the most destructive of our faults. It’s laid out before us, if we squeeze through the opening he presents. I believe it was Greil Marcus who once said, “The measure of an artist’s genius is in how he creates the spaces into which we all can live”. How long does it take all of us to know, not as hollow words, but as a way of understanding, that “Sometimes you don’t have to try?” “Northside”, the song from which these lyrics come, touched me like those written by songwriters such as Warren Zevon and Townes Van Zandt, who’s songs put me right in that same space.

The workmanship of a singer/songwriter, when done well, is identified by a perfect marriage of their unique lyricism, and musical interpretation. Sorensen’s nylon string guitar provides the steady, sonic backdrop for the songs on “Midwest”. The use of lush strings, mandolin, dobro, piano, guitars, soft brushes and the deep tones of the pedal steel dance together within the context of a style that would allow me to recognize a new song as an Adam James Sorensen song. In his debut record, “Midwest”, he gives us a collection of originals in which he reveals his honest, subtle and incisive view of things – little things, big things – personal and shared.

I cannot wait to share this music with people I love.

– Bob Hill

Steve Klingaman | Minor 7th
Two words, midwest and melancholy, sometimes go together in life, as here they do in music. Adam James Sorensen writes, “Has the midwest got you down / I hear you speaking but your heart won’t make a sound.” A midwest sensibility, actually a Chicago mindset, anchors this album, with numerous evocative markers that belie a young man’s angst. “Desperation,” “Suburban Rock and Roll,” and “Chicago River” (“I’m leavin’ Chicago / Before it gets cold”) all make the case for the nagging sense that perhaps life is occurring somehow elsewhere. Sorensen anchors his sound palette in his nylon-string guitar, a choice associated with some of the greats like Cohen and Nelson. I have always loved the softer attack to the strings it provides, and Sorensen uses it to great effect in the midst of deft ensemble settings that never detract or distract from his clear, almost tenor voice that conveys (what else?) a touch of melancholy, with grace beyond his years.

– Steve Klingaman, Minor 7th

Johan Schoenmaker | Altcountryforum.nl (Dutch)
Zo af en toe overkomt het je. Je zet een nieuwe cd op van een voor jou onbekende singer-songwriter en denkt bij de eerste akkoorden ‘zo, dat klinkt goed’ en toch wel bekend in de oren. De meegestuurde promo-sheet over de Amerikaan Adam James Sorensen vermeldt zoals zo vaak het geval is veel bullshit als: het melodische van Richard Buckner, de melancholie van Nick Drake, de geweldige schrijfkunst van Townes van Zandt en de warme relaxte vocalen van Iron and Wine. Al kan ik de vergelijkingen enigszins wel begrijpen, Adam James Sorensen, veelgevraagd gitarist door bands als The Blood Oranges, Jerry Joseph en Melvin Sparks is gewoon Adam James Sorensen. Een zanger en gitarist waarbij hij zich voor de liedteksten en albumtitel liet inspireren door zijn terugkeer naar Chicago, de plek waar hij is opgegroeid.

“Midwest” is een lekker album om bij weg te dromen, weg van de harde werkelijkheid. Adams recept is puur, gevoelig en echt. Hij laat de liedjes voor zichzelf spreken. Adams vrij monotone en warm stemgeluid, zijn ingetogen akoestisch gitaarspel en het weemoedig, zelfgeschreven repertoire spelen een centrale rol op dit album. Mede door het subtiele gebruik van een viola (Eyvind Kang), cello (Christopher Hoffman), dobro (Colby Sander), piano (Mark Spencer) en de intieme samenzang met zangeres Rachel Harrington in People Start Fires en het titelnummer wordt er een vertederende sfeer gecreëerd. “Midwest” is een plaat voor liefhebbers van het gevoel op de vierkante centimeter. Noem me maar een ouwe zak. Van tijd tot tijd kan ik zo’n melancholiek, misschien zelfs wel sentimenteel plaatje waarderen.

– Johan Schoenmaker, Altcountryforum.nl

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