(Captured Tracks; 2014)
It’s cool when an artist presents their creative wares without nodding to any particular influence, without, in fact, making you think of ANYTHING except their own particular musical slant. This disc by Juan Wauters, a Uruquay-born singer/songwriter who moved to Queens, NY around the turn of the century, has a quality that is actually kind of rare these days, an innocent charm and lack of artifice that allow you to experience Wauters as a fellow human being rather than some pop star layers removed due to technology. The sound here is lo-fi and indie acoustc overall, with just a little of Wauters’ South American roots in the mix. From his bio, one learns that Wauters spent a lot of time alone in the Queens basement he grew up in, and checked out recordings from the local library. But what mostly comes through here is the way Wauters must have been intrigued by his neighborhood surroundings, the people he met, and the conclusions he slowly drew about life here in the US. He has a warm, affable vocal style, and these songs are rather effortlessly engaging.
“Let Me Hip You To Something” grabs your attention with some acoustic finger-picking that seems curiously at odds with the briskly-sung, rather in-your-face vocal. Somehow the blend works, and it announces Wauters as an assertive but earnest talent. Primitive strumming adorns “Sanity or Not,” in which Wauters mostly pronounces the word “San-ee-tee,” as he shares his apparent struggle to tell what is real from what’s an illusion. Good luck with that one, Juan; most of us are already exhausted by that dilemma. I like the tossed-off ennui (and the title) of “Woke Up Feeling Like Sleeping,” which actually sounds like a track where the artist barely summoned the energy to record it, and maybe DID go back to sleep after. Good thing Wauters has an effective sound, blending ’60s era melody and “anything goes” confidence with early ’90s lo-fi casualness. “Water” is one of the essential tunes here, featuring again, insistent finger picking but this time with a solid arrangement and more importantly, an engaging. contemplative vocal that hints of Daniel Johnston at his outsider-music best. Johnston is actually not a bad reference point for a lot of this stuff. The song title “All Tall Mall Will Fall” is weird enough that I probably would’ve skipped right to that track out of curiosity even if I weren’t reviewing this sucker. It’s a bit of a trifle, having something to do with sentiments regarding a mall, but there’s a sensibility at work here that keeps you intrigued. Wauters isn’t alone in this world, either: his pal Carmelle makes an appearance on “Breathing” and “How Do They All Do?,” mostly just adding an extra layer to the vocals. But it reveals, engagingly, that Wauters is not just living in a state of removal, that he interacts with others and CARES. He also sings a couple of tunes in his native language, adding to our understanding of his multi-cultural background.
All the tunes on this record are rather brief, and contrary to the title, not all could be considered “poetry.” But that’s not the point. Wauters has an expressive, listenable voice, a way with both melodies and words, and a degree of self-awareness that informs his music with an indefinable edge. Something tells me he could grow into a top-notch artist someday. Meanwhile, I can give this album a thumbs up for how easygoing it sounds and how Wauters’ voice tends to grab you firmly, then hold you kind of closely and gently for most of the recording. Interestingly, the record also works nicely as background music. That may sound contradictory, but it’s not, really, it’s just the singular approach of a truly promising young singer/songwriter, one who deserves to be heard as he heads out there into the big, noisy musical wilderness.