Indiana (Nettwerk America)
Playing 6:30 p.m. Friday at Tower West End and 9:30 p.m. Saturday at 12th & Porter
Five years ago, David Mead wanted to express every idea his muse sent his way. Wildly eclectic, his debut CD, Luxury of Time, swept from effervescent rockers to moody piano ballads. He seemed determined to master every kind of melodic rock available to him, sounding like Harry Nilsson one moment, Cheap Trick, The Cure or Cole Porter the next. Mead's new album, Indiana, is more contained and quiet, yet still it brims with clever melodies and narratives. The record is the work of a maturing artist who brings five years of travel and roadwork to bear on his music.
These scaled down songs were influenced in part by logistics. Mead often tours as a solo act, so he writes material that can maintain its strengths when put across with just an acoustic guitar. Economics likely were also a factor. Mead's previous two albums, including 2001's Mine and Yours, were paid for by RCA Records. The singer financed the new album himself, then signed a deal with the independent Nettwerk label to release and promote it. This tighter budget limited Mead's chance to experiment with ideas or afford brass sections or string orchestras.
On some levels, the album is about retreat, but not defeat. The subtler textures of Indiana reflect a singer-songwriter who's emerged from a heady, ambitious period into a time of taking stock and adjusting priorities. With the release of his 1999 debut, Mead moved from Nashville to New York City, a charming rake in his mid-20s with the world before him. While working on Indiana, he returned to Nashville, a married man hitting 30 and ready to assume a different pace.
This record may be less exhilarating than his previous ones, but it still rewards those willing to accept Mead's gentler tone. That said, some things haven't changed: the beauty of Mead's tenor voice, his trademark melodicism and wit, which ranges from sweet to bittersweet, but never displays the bitterness common to so many rock songs these days.
Mead addresses the changes in his life with the album's opening song, "Nashville," and it's clear that the decision to return to where he started his career wasn't entirely a positive one. "It's not quite London or the south of France / Or an Asian island or a second chance," he sings, dropping in register to emphasize the last phrase. The rest of the album portrays a man struggling to rediscover himself and his inspiration. Mead writes evocatively of relationships, whether it's with his lover, his muse or the larger world. In "Beauty," he could be addressing any of the three when he sings, "Beauty / Where you hiding / Tell me / I'll go where you are."
The title track, the album's catchiest tune, is more specific in its aim. Sung as one side of a conversation on a cell phone, it seems like sweet ramblings from a bored musician driving through the Midwest, explaining his funny and sometimes humiliating road experiences to his lover. It's evident, however, that he doesn't want to hang up, and listeners find out why at song's end. "Indiana's the wrong place / To be breaking apart," he confides across the wires. "On a road that goes on forever / Like a hole in your heart."
Elsewhere, Mead's tenderness ("Oneplusone") and humor ("Bucket of Girls") remain intact. He also includes a fine revision of the Michael Jackson hit "Human Nature," a staple of his live shows, performed with cello and acoustic guitar to emphasize the song's touching lyrics. Surely, Mead will rock harder again, but with Indiana, he's proven he can whisper as effectively as he can wail.
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