It comes as little surprise that someone from Arkansas would write and produce an all-Americana imbibed album. But it might come as a surprise that he started his musical career when he found a string-less guitar in 2010 while dumpster diving. Michael Leonard Witham’s debut album, A Scandal in the Violets, to be officially released October 21 (though you can buy it on Amazon.com now), could have been more than just a collection of songs. It could have also been an inspiring, uplifting story, one that many independent artists actively seek. After all, Witham had never played a guitar before 2010; he is a YouTubian self-taught musician who first found local fame with a song recorded on his iPhone. Oftentimes, these stories end up in a record painful to listen to. In this case, the collection of 10 songs are clear and crisp and feature rugged but steady vocals set in confident, yet gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar and steady drum beats.
Unfortunately though, the overall tone of the album is pessimistic and dark, which comes as a sharp contrast to the rags-to-riches like story of its creator. The country-ish album opener, “Sorry Girl But the Show Is Over”, seems like a bad omen of sorts. From the first notes, the piano blends well with Witham’s voice, both of them contributing to solid and intriguing storytelling. Witham’s voice is even more absorbing in “Down for Good”, a simple song that also discusses some darker topics.
This quickly becomes the essence of this album: gloomy themes set in light melodies. Witham rapidly emerges as an interesting combination of pessimist realist who still has a light side to him as reflected in some of the jaunty melodies he sets his dark lyrics to. “Defective Heart” is the song where the vocals stand out the most but it’s mostly because of the underlying sadness. “Oh the Evil!!!” features a harmonica, which seems to add, along with the upbeat nature of the song, a sarcastic bite to a negative track. In such a setting, the echoes of old-time rock in “Sideways Grin & a Wandering Eye” sound quite melancholic, although the more classic rock and upbeat “Miss L.A.” manages to be a cheery pace changer set right at the middle of the album.
The bittersweet ballad “Ordinary Hand” marks the return of the country elements that defined the opening songs of the album. “The Good Doctor’s Double Vodka Blues” is, well, a bluesy song that delivers the emotions one would expect from a song of the genre. This song gave the most arresting visual pretty early on – that of a crowded lounge bar, filled with chatter and cigarette smoke, attention grabbed by the artist on stage, and, by the end, swaying to its beat. The image of the bar continues to live on with “Where the Witches Live”, the title of which promises a grim song, and the emotion-laden vocals are right up there with “Defective Heart”.
While Witham doesn’t have a singing voice typical of mainstream music, there is definitely a place for him amongst lovers of darker, yet upbeat music. But be warned that if you are looking to get out of a funk, this is not the album for you, as it acts like the friend who will reinforce all your negative emotions about life and relationships.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.