Call it folk-rock, country-rock or what you will, there is a timeless quality to the ten tracks on this debut album from Michael Leonard Witham, “A Scandal In The Violets” (released 21st, October 2014). A diamond in the rough from Little Rock, Arkansas, Witham is a singer-songwriter whose razor voice delivers everyman poetry and streetwise lyrics. Can’t put my finger on exactly why, but he makes me think of the late, great Harry Chapin.
There is a lot of drinking, trouble with women and gambling in these songs. How much is self-mythologizing, actual autobiography, plain storytelling or just romantising the genre – who knows. Whatever its inspirations, “A Scandal In The Violets” is a slice of Americana that seeps into your consciousness. Michael Leonard Witham looks far younger than he sounds. I was expecting someone on the wrong side of 40, with wrinkles to match his gravel-voiced stories, but shave off the beard and he would be rather fresh-faced.
Slide guitar has to be one of the most beautiful sounds ever invented, and it features to good effect on several songs. Early Dylan-style harmonica puts the cherry on top for “Oh The Evil!!!” and “Where The Witches Live”. Duane Eddy-ish rockabilly drives “Last Plea To Ashley Ann” in which said Ashley Ann is begged for forgiveness for some infidelity. In “Ordinary Hand”, Witham is more bullish. Confronted by a woman nagging him to stop drinking, his response is, “I’ll put it down when I get ready to”. Well, that’s her told. However, a cautionary tale of a drunk who has had his heart broken is the backbone of “The Good Doctor’s Double Vodka Blues”. Everything comes together most sweetly, for me, on the poetic “Sideways Grin & A Wandering Eye”.
Production on this record never gets in the way, and if you like this genre, you’ll appreciate its stripped-down quality and the craft of an authentic, original songwriter.
It was only in 2010 that Witham found a broken acoustic guitar in a dumpster. He mended it, taught himself to play it and began writing songs. He’d found his purpose. His first recordings were made on an iPhone and he started to get gigs. In an age when talentless nobodies are expensively packaged in order to deliver drivel, I love that example of organic serendipity. Listen with a bottle of bourbon close by.
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