(Bridgefolk Records, CD)
Ex-Burlington and current North Carolina resident Chris Titchner's easygoing folk-rock combines the self-confessional stance of modern singer-songwriters with the driving jangle of early '90s alt-rock. While this is hardly a new confection, Titchner's latest, Moving Day, boasts some strong pop melodies. Unfortunately, Titchner plays it too safe, employing tired euphemisms and paint-by-numbers song construction.
Opener "Bad, Bad Way" kicks off with an inoffensive chord progression and tumbling drum fill before settling into a prosaic pop-rock groove. Titchner's lyrics are likewise pedestrian. "I'm in a bad, bad way / And I'm too tired to fight / But I think that I'll be OK if I can make it through tonight." Barroom napkin poetics such as these work best when used sparingly, but Titchner lays it on pretty thick. "It's too dark outside / and underneath my skin / now we've run out of things to say, and you won't let me in," he
With its tremolo guitar and gentle country lilt, "Dead End Job" is a smooth production, nicely augmented by Titchner's sweet, gravelly voice. His tragicomic description of workplace banality is eventually fleshed out with a full horn section. The tune is truly a "fanfare for the common man" -- a play-by-play account of personal pathos.
"North Carolina" recounts an attempt to salvage a relationship. In it, the protagonist suggests spontaneous travel as a romantic remedy. Like many of the songs on Moving Day, its chief concern is escape. "Doesn't need to be complicated / Doesn't need to cause you stress / We'll just quit these jobs we hated / And leave no forwarding address," he sings. Mournful strings and spot-on harmonies by guest vocalist Leslie Titchner contribute to the track's delicate grace.
Sheets of ambient sound color the pensive piano chords of "Here's to Another Year." Regrettably, the cut subsequently devolves into a cliche power ballad, with huge drum fills telegraphing each oversized chorus. Titchner sounds sincere, but his cloying wordplay sticks to the same "woe-is-me" routine favored by everyone from Edwin McCain to Coldplay. "Model Planes" fares slightly better, largely due to its snaky, minor-key intro. Loaded with soft-rock splendor, the cut retains enough instrumental variation to keep things interesting.
Titchner has a strong grasp of pop songcraft, but his creations never escape generic sentimentality. Much of Moving Day feels like a road trip in your driveway; next time, I hope he hits some open highway. You can hear him live Friday, August 12, at Montpelier's Langdon St. Cafe; Saturday, August 13, at Radio Bean in Burlington; and Sunday, August 14, at the Bee's Knees in Morrisville.