Kevin Lewis is a budding singer-songwriter from Burlington by way of Plattsburgh, N.Y. He specializes in lo-fi, bedroom-pop-style rock, and he's recently released his second album, Songs for the Fireplace. The title is a bit misleading, to say the least: This is a loud, urgent piece of work, cut straight from the heart.
For his 2016 debut, Elizabeth, Lewis convened a cast of local musicians to help out. But for his latest effort, he took the one-man-band approach. The drums are mostly canned percussion, a drum machine counterpoint to his human touch. Sometimes that juxtaposition coheres nicely, as on the intro to the slow-burn ballad "Never Ends." Mostly, though, the computerized beats just amplify the album's home-demo feel, especially when Lewis' strings meander out of time.
With such uneven production values, the spotlight turns to the songs themselves. Lewis comes off as an earnest, innocent soul, penning straightforward tracks about the confusion of the human condition. All of the songs are serious and introspective, often nakedly personal. His writing can get muddled, but you'll never doubt that he means every word.
Which brings us to Lewis' singing. What he lacks in pitch and technique he attempts to make up for with sheer gusto: He absolutely hollers his balls off on most of these songs. The result is something like Tenacious D minus the chops — and the winking self-awareness. It can be hard to sit through someone belting off-key, and that's mostly what Songs for the Fireplace has to offer.
So, rather than a polished product, the album is more like a document of an artist in progress. As such, it's genuinely charming, in a primitive-art sort of way. Furthermore, I hate to be so hard on a young man who is clearly so hard on himself. Some of his songs, especially "Taste," are brutally self-recriminating — it's almost like listening to a total stranger work through a therapy session.
Although Lewis seems most at home bashing out power chords or jangling along on rhythm guitar, he injects some surprising stylistic shifts along the way. "Worth in Myself" takes a turn into bare-bones, blue-eyed reggae for some riffs on the healing power of love.
Then there's "Something About Your Hair," a sad waltz about picking up the pieces of a broken relationship. The writing is carefully observed, and the song features some of the best guitar work on the album. It's a fine, mature composition, giving us a glimpse of the artist Lewis could become.
While Songs for the Fireplace shows promise, it also indicates that working with other musicians may be the best way for Lewis to realize that potential. With his move to Burlington, he's definitely landed in the right scene to make connections and further hone the rough edges of his sound.
Songs for the Fireplace is available at kevinlewis.bandcamp.com.