For the better part of the past 15 years, Jayson Fulton has played in a variety of central-Vermont-based bands. Most notably, he is the lead singer and bassist for Waitsfield bluegrass outfit the Mad Mountain Scramblers. But deep in his heart, Fulton has long considered himself a songwriter. Earlier this year, he finally released his debut solo album, Startled Arms. While Scramblers fans may be somewhat surprised at Fulton’s soft-rock leanings, over 17 original tracks the veteran multi-instrumentalist proves himself a capable tunesmith and a talented vocalist.
Removed from his familiar rootsy string-band setting, Fulton reveals an interesting assortment of influences, from James Taylor to Hall and Oates. Following a brief instrumental intro track, he settles into a light acoustic-rock groove on “Nasty Pool.” It’s an adventuresome little tune with a meandering melody that winks at Steely Dan.
Throughout the remainder of the disc, Fulton shows great command of his formative inspirations, offering elements of varying styles without ever truly aping them. “War Chimes” is a limber bluegrass-tinged cut with a lean hook. “Colorado I Pretend” is a heartfelt ode that recalls Simon & Garfunkel. “Cool Breeze” is a funky acoustic-rock nugget — complete with a cheeky mouth-trumpet solo.
The album’s only real flaw is that there is too much of it. While there are more nice moments to be found than bad ones, Fulton includes a few clunkers that should have been left on the cutting-room floor. For example, “Business Day,” on which he muses over the monotony of working a day job. Unfortunately, the song is as dull and listless as one presumes the said 9-to-5 to be.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Startled Arms. Jayson Fulton may not be a cutting-edge songwriter, and his influences may seem dated or, at times, even a little schmaltzy. But his refreshing lack of pretense is undeniably appealing. Throughout the record, you get the sense that Fulton comes by his sunny, soft-rock persona honestly. Particularly as first attempts go, the record is a largely pleasant affair that suggests Fulton is a promising talent with room to grow.
Jayson Fulton plays the Purple Moon Pub in Waitsfield on Saturday, May 19.