Throw discs by Jeff Buckley, Devendra Banhart and the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano into a blender, then randomly re-assemble the pieces, and you might end up with something like What Moves You Kid, the debut from Montpelier singer-songwriter Dan Zura. Recorded live over two afternoons in March 2006, the album is a playful, sometimes melancholy effort, featuring some truly endearing snapshots of the songwriter's life. However, Zura fails to completely distinguish himself from his influences.
The CD opens with "Good Socks," a country-blues song that showcases Zura's ability to pluck away on his guitar while sweetly crooning. "I'm gonna scrub my table today / I'm gonna scrub my table / Ain't doing no dishes / I leave them where they lay," Zura sings. It's a carefree, if safe, introduction to a record that later changes vibe for the better.
"New Eyes" is a far more interesting selection. The slow, minor-key number is reminiscent of the more somber cuts on Neil Young's classic After the Gold Rush. Over sparse instrumentation, Zura uses his quivering voice to fine effect. The sober mood is enhanced by a few choice lyrics: "It's a hard day when it's true / That someone you love don't love you / And someone you don't love, loves you," he sings. It's definitely an album highlight.
In "Boring Mamma Rag," Zura explores a classic New Orleans sound. The song has a couple of interesting changes, but unfortunately is a little too mild-mannered. This might have something to do with the title.
Zura employs a familiar rag structure on "Snowdrops," and to stronger effect. Despite its relative simplicity, the song is remarkably well crafted, its down-to-earth sound enhanced by Zura's tasteful harmonica playing.
He really hits his stride on "I Can't Find the War," a soft-spoken reflection on the cloudy nature of our current military engagements. Zura's personal confusion and wariness will likely ring true for many listeners.
The real strength of What Moves You Kid lies in this songwriter's earnest performances. In an era of computer-based edits and post-production gimmicks, it's nice to hear an artist so committed to his material.