- Hewitt Stevens, Songs From the Laundry Room
There's a story of when Rick Rubin met the Black Crowes early in their career. The legendary producer advised the band to call themselves the Kobb Kounty Krows — all Ks for added controversy. Chris Robinson and co. wisely shot down that idea. (Also: Jesus, Rick. WTF?)
I often think about what terrible advice I'd give to aspiring musicians. And I gotta tell you: I have so many bad ideas. Were I, say, local songwriter Hewitt Stevens' producer, I'd change the name of his debut record Songs From the Laundry Room to OK, Boomer.
Now, that's a terrible idea for so many reasons. For one, in the fast-paced world of meme culture, that joke might have already expired. Second, at 71 years old, former TV exec Stevens is making a very late musical debut, so advertising his baby boomer card might be redundant.
Look, before you all start thinking what a heartless, sneering, ageist Gen X-er I am, I just want to point out that there's a song on this album called "Dope Ain't Dope," which is the musical equivalent of when Steve Buscemi wore the "Music Band" T-shirt on "30 Rock."
Stevens' heart is in a good place. He sings a lot about getting this crazy country back on track, as on "American Dreamer," "So Wanna Believe" and "Changes." But his lyrics can read like a disgruntled dad's Facebook timeline. "Walking around with our screens in our hand / Autocorrected but we're cool / We get too much too soon or too little too late / Hashtag algorithm and blues," he sings on "Changes." Frankly, those are some of his better lines.
Stevens plays all the instruments on his debut, which he indeed recorded in his laundry room (and he presumably didn't know about the Foo Fighters' 2015 EP of the same name). And I'm not going to lie: I sort of love the DIY nature of what he's doing here. Dude took a polyphonic piano, guitar and microphone into his laundry room to make an album, and you can tell he had been waiting to make it for a while.
His arrangements show a pop savvy that recalls '80s albums from '70s rockers, when they all made big hits for a few years to fuel their blow intake. The result is reminiscent of bands like Go West or When in Rome. That Stevens made a record that fits sonically into that idiom is itself an achievement. And it shouldn't be overlooked that no one in the local scene is producing anything like this.
In a surprising pairing, hip-hop producer Zach Crawford, aka SkySplitterInk, mixed and mastered the record. Crawford seems to have gotten exactly what Stevens was going for with the songs, because he takes those laundry-room tracks and lets the pop hooks shine. The production has a bright, nostalgic sheen.
Unfortunately, I just can't make myself love the songs, even if I do love Stevens' drive. A fine line exists between sounding retro and just sounding dated, and Songs From the Laundry Room trends toward the latter. Stream or download it at hewittmusic.com.