Why is it that more often than you’d like, when you find something that’s amazing, it’s not long before it goes away? You have just enough time to quietly and slowly come to know and love it, and then before you know it, the windows are boarded up and the doors are locked tight. I realize how specific and cryptic this sounds, and yes, I’m getting to my point; more than anything, I’m reminiscing.
In April of 2010, I moved to Lexington into the apartment that my soon-to-be-wife and I would share after our wedding. For a month, I spent my time working at my new job, and hanging out with the few good friends I had in the city, and it was my friend Jenn who invited me to come hang out one afternoon while she was working at a small coffee shop in downtown Nicholasville. I have never, in all of my life and despite all of the coffee shops I’ve been to, found one as perfect as Main & Maple. It was spacious and had the perfect atmosphere, and best of all (despite eventually being a stake through its heart) not many people knew about it. One night a week, Main & Maple hosted an open mic night and it was normally local high school kids that would get up and play heartfelt, albeit less than proficient, renditions of Green Day and Death Cab For Cutie songs, and it was at one such open mic night that I first was introduced to Wayne Graham. Part of the appeal was the atmosphere, but despite the fact that Main & Maple has since closed, I still enjoy Wayne Graham’s music quite a bit.
Kenny Miles (who is Wayne Graham for all intents and purposes) got up with a friend on bass and performed some original songs that had big hooks and even bigger heart. It was the first time in a long time that I had been so impressed with a local band, and they were local to an area much smaller than Lexington. Their talent was undeniable, and in the 2 1/2 years since, I have followed their movements to see what they had up their sleeves.
It was in April of 2010 that Wayne Graham released their debut album Ripe Old Age, which I felt was a strong release for an unknown band, but one that served more to show the potential for what would come next. Almost exactly 2 years later, they released Brighter By Now, their slightly bigger and more fleshed out follow-up.
There is no denying that Miles has a talent for writing catchy and heartfelt songs, but there are points on Brighter By Now where he wears his influences a little higher on his sleeve. Tracks like “New Here” sound like it could be a John Mayer B-Side, and you’d swear that “Dust Your Feet” were a cover of an early My Morning Jacket song. Other tracks play this a little closer to the vest, as in the case of “At Least”, which is a quiet and introspective acoustic track that sounds heavily influenced by a Sky Blue Sky-era Wilco. For me, none of this distracts from the honesty found in the lyrics or the musical prowess required to pull off songs that can easily be likened to such prolific musicians; it’s just a fact that neither adds to or takes from the album.
Opening track, “Let’s Keep It That Way” is by an large one of the strongest tracks on the album, and one that I think best represents the Wayne Graham that I remember. It’s dirty and Miles’ vocals are perfect for the sound and feel they are going for. It’s honest and without much flair, which is when I think the band is at their best. The tracks that follow (“New Here” and “Just Like You Said”) explore the changes that took place over the 2 years since Ripe Old Age was released, and the 3 tracks together show such promise for the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, Brighter By Now suffers from the same problem that most self-produced albums do: the artist has an emotional attachment to the songs and are sometimes unable to approach it all from an objective standpoint. Brighter By Now is 13 tracks long, clocking in at just under an hour, but I personally would have cut out a couple of the weaker songs for the sake of a more concise and cohesive album, maybe down to 40 minutes. The question then is this: is too much content a bad thing? Not inherently so, though experience tells me that with the way our attention spans are getting exponentially shorter, fewer songs makes for something more easily digested.
All told, Brighter By Now is a good and natural next step in a career that is just getting started. I may not visit the album as a whole very often, but there certainly are songs that I will find myself putting on mixes to listen to in the car. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the band does next, as they travel down the road to self-discovery and as they refine their sound.