We live in a time unlike any other. The spread of COVID-19 has made for a time of togetherness in separation that can’t quite be compared to much else in recorded history. As a result, musicians have begun to adapt to the current state of affairs in interesting ways, from live-streaming concerts to developing songs that reflect this new world from out of the blue.
Due out in early April, Patrick Ames’ Liveness feels like his natural response to what’s unfurling all around us. The folk rambler piqued our interest in 2019 with All I Do is Bleed, and now he’s back again with an album that is chockful of social commentary and musings on finding sinewy personal connections in uncertain times.
Recorded in DIY fashion with a slew of live mics, the sonic influence behind Liveness that’s given it its name is that it’s “as live as can be.” In other words, it’s purposefully raw. You can hear the squeaking of strings between chords, and Ames’ voice is oftentimes imperfect. It’s his place as a troubadour to develop an album that is as sonically varied as it is uncooked; not in the sense that its vision is lesser, but in that he’s honing-in on the meat of the dish outright in the purity of his songwriting. It’s something that Ames might only get away with as someone in folk, but given his innate musicality and that he is in folk, it comes across with an early Tom Waits-y sort-of homemade charm.
While Ames continues to accentuate his breadth of influences with tinges of blues, gospel, funk, and bossa nova throughout, the album is thematically unvarnished folk. It’s book-ended in protest; opener ‘Bang Bang Bang’ is driven with a darkness in wry humor and dry statements that reflect the gun violence epidemic, and closer ‘Standard Candles’ looks to the 21st century’s technological boom with skepticism. Between, we get a look at his varied musicality, from the Latin poetry of ‘Just Before I Do (Wedding Song)’ and ‘Slow Dancing’ and the soul-driven blues of ‘Want to Believe’. It’s another solid entry in Ames’ catalog, and one that, at its core, casts a reflection on the times we live in today.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm