[Brushfire Records (2012)]
It’s no mystery to me why Bahamas (a.k.a. Afie Jurvanen) has been quietly building anticipation for his solo material since releasing the Juno-nominated Pink Strat a couple years ago: He backs up his easygoing, warm, and humble attitude with impeccable skills as a guitarist (of course), songwriter, and arranger. Barchords, his second disc, is steeped in classic pop and soul, a 3 a.m. form of Motown.
The guitar work in particular is extraordinary, which is to be expected. Not a minute goes by without something surprising coming from his instrument. His layered, trebley spikes set off the keyboards on “Caught Me Thinking,” perfect summer radio fare even in the dead of winter; “Okay I’m All Right” coaxes a 1980s synth sound out of the instrument; call and response guitar and falsetto lines fill in “Your Sweet Touch” and “Snowplow”; whisps of Hawaiian slide guitar make their way into “Montreal”; and his careful precision is particularly evident on the acoustic on “Overjoyed.” He never wastes a note, never devolves into self-indulgence on his instrument.
This same precision is a blessing and a curse in Jurvanen’s vocals, and he sticks with either his preferences or limitations, a whispery, relaxed tone like Jack Johnson (who recognizes the similarity and recently mentioned Bahamas in a newletter). This is a detriment on a sedate song like “Montreal” (which comes too early in the disc for its sleepiness) or the one-minute “Any Other Way.” They sound something captured in a hotel room after a show, with a “don’t wake the people in the next room” volume and intensity. But the same vocal tone is a boon in other slow pieces like “Overjoyed,” or the opener “Lost in the Light,” or the closing hymn “Be My Witness”; coincidentally, these are similar, slow, soul-drenched tunes. He’s not emotionless or distracting by any means (and it’s rare for his vocals to be the center of any song in the first place), but his voice never carries the songs on its own, never amazes the way his guitar does. After repeated listens, it seems that much of the emotional power in the standout tracks here comes from and is bolstered by the complete arrangement.
Which brings us right back around to Bahamas’s major strengths as an artist: his guitar playing, songwriting, and arranging prowess. Overall, Barchords is an outstanding album, full of small delights even with casual spins and rewarding deeper listening at every turn.