His 2011 release, Lose Me in the Sand, sees him reinventing himself as a desert troubadour, but hes a little less successful there. Its a good album, but it doesnt excel, as his previous incarnation did.
Lose Me in the Sand is written primarily on banjo, and Growden uses it in pieces frantic (John Hardy), funny (Star Spangled Benz) and forlorn (Bones, Im on Fire). Just as in his previous disc, he skews toward the dark and slow idiom, but his preferred style is not as easily applicable to the desert country genre as it was to New Orleans jazz. None of the songs here are bad, but some dont connect with the listener the way the gritty tunes of Saint Judas did.
Takin My Time almost sounds like a B-side from the previous album, with the crawling pace and mournful cast over the proceedings. Its good, but ionly tangentially fits the country vibe hes going for. The stark Lovin Emma comes off as creepy instead of affectionate, while You Aint Never Been Loved has a similar quandary.
But when he speeds up and lets it twang a bit, as in Killing Time and the charming Settle in a Little While, he succeeds in writing country songs that resonate with the soul and within the conventions of the genre.
Growdens predilection for sad and lonesome things found a home in New Orleans jazz, and its hard to break out of something that comfortable. Lose Me in the Sand is good, but it has one foot in country and the other in jazz. This creates some great tunes, as well as some odd ones that dont feel at home in either place.
Fans of Growden will celebrate his unique songwriting style shining through, no matter what genre hes in; first-time listeners may scratch their heads a bit. Catch him at 8 p.m. March 16 at Istvan Gallery, 1218 N. Western. Stephen Carradini