By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Onstage, Martin Devaney projects an energetic, brash, and hardly self-serious persona. Turns out he's not much different away from the spotlight: Recently I was playing records on the radio, hosting a two-hour show I do each month on WNUR-FM in Evanston, Illinois. Devaney, listening via the Web from his St. Paul home, called up the studio and in a comically phony voice requested one of his own songs, then launched into a mock tirade when I said I didn't have the disc.
That sense of humor is a great asset to Devaney the songwriter, and it defines the best moments of his debut long-player, Somebody Somewhere. It's amply evident on "Bowling (On Valentine's Day)" and it pervades "Landlord's Daughter," a goofy, jangling anthem that might as easily have been penned by Joey Ramone, Jim Ruiz, or Woody Guthrie. The chorus: "I'm in love with the landlord's daughter/Daddy found the ring I bought her/Now I don't know where she went/And Daddy raised the rent."
Not far beneath Devaney's smart mouth beats a bleeding heart, and like Whatever That Is (the EP he released last year), Somebody Somewhere is packed with paeans to all the girls he's loved before. These work best when he drops the gloves, stomps on his pink-tinted shades, and snarls--whether at the woman who keeps shutting him down ("Let's stop this past-tense conversation") or at himself, for being such a sucker ("I kick up dirt and climb the fence/My head is full and my heart is tense").
As always, Devaney's backing band consists of his high school pals Kevin Hunt (drums), Sean McPherson (bass), and Josh Peterson (guitar), better known as the jazz-funk hip-hop group Heiruspecs. They're skilled players, but they sound a little constrained by the roots-rock context. Even with Devaney's harmonica and guest Peter Sands's Hammond organ in the mix, the songs sometimes seem painted by numbers from a palette of gray. Producer Tom Herbers makes the sound richer and denser than on Whatever That Is, but I'd like more bite in the guitars and more muscle in the beat.
Also on my quibble list: The shadow of Devaney's role models--wordy wise-asses from Bob Dylan to Dan Bern--is still too apparent. His lyrics often scan better than they sound, and he's still learning how best to exploit his quirky, sometimes chirpy vocal range. And the album is far too long, especially in its mushy middle. (Maybe my dopamine levels are low, but I don't have 63 minutes for Dylan, much less Devaney.)
But Somebody Somewhere is just the first full-length effort from a guy barely old enough to quaff a brew in the clubs he plays. Its shortcomings are really just room to grow.