(Jenke Records, digital download)
The latest album from local songwriter Tommy Alexander boasts a curious title: Bogart the Ghost. When I initially read it, I figured it was one of two things: a reference to the specter of the late Humphrey Bogart (interesting!) or some kind of stoner-slang nonsense (decidedly less so). The answer: more the latter than the former, I think. But whatever.
Bogart is a follow-up to Alexander’s promising 2011 debut, Maybe One Day. That album presented a songwriter with obvious talent and ambition, but one who had yet to find true footing as an artist and fully step out from under the wing of his formative influences. In the year or so since, Alexander has carved out a nice little niche with his artist collective/record label, Jenke Records. While maintaining an active gig schedule and collaborating in a variety of incarnations, he’s managed to give voice to a segment of the local scene that might otherwise not have one.
Alexander’s collection of cast-offs and misfits — and I mean that in a good way — have forged an unlikely alliance whose individual members succeed based on the strength and support of the larger whole. It’s a nifty feat. And that spirit seems to be manifesting in Alexander’s own music.
To be sure, the Jenke founder still wears his influences on his tattered flannel sleeves. And I’m guessing his warbled croon might always elicit comparisons to that of Conor Oberst. Still, Bogart reveals a maturing songwriter growing more confident in his considerable abilities. In particular, Alexander’s prose — especially on songs such as album opener “Place I Used to Run,” “Son of a Carpenter” and “The Fighter” — is increasingly powerful as he ruminates on themes from finding a sense of place to reconciling identity. He pairs a sort of dusty, blue-collar-bard appeal with pseudo-slacker cool. It’s a surprisingly comfortable fit.
In moments, though, that fit may be a bit too relaxed. Alexander has a pleasantly gruff, easy baritone. But he has a tendency to get lazy with his pitch, particularly at the ends of phrases. Laid-back charm suits Alexander’s affable style, but not at the expense of intonation. Some rules are simply not made to be broken, and that’s one of them.
Otherwise, Tommy Alexander takes a solid step forward with Bogart the Ghost, delivering a record that improves an already effective formula and hints that he’s just begun to scratch the surface of his ability.
Tommy Alexander plays the Jenke Jump-off at Nectar’s on Wednesday, October 17.
Bogart the Ghost is available at tommyalexander.bandcamp.com.