CD Review of The Break-In by Ari Hest

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The Break-In
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Columbia
Released: 2007
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Ari Hest has not had much rest in the last few years. Though his last full-length major label debut was three years ago, he’s released two EPs in the interim and claims to constantly be writing new songs. Thankfully, Hest’s prolific ways give him a wealth of music to choose from when delivering a full length project, making the concentration of quality material a given. And that’s exactly what’s happened with The Break-In, Hest’s sophomore Columbia Records effort. This is not just a coming of age. It’s something that is going to cement Hest’s place among some of the greatest singer/songwriters of the last two generations. And that’s because the songs on this record are, in a word, stunning.

You won’t tire of Ari Hest’s vocals, because they are smooth, smoky and politely listenable. Producer Mitchell Froom also worked some magic on the songs, keeping the arrangements simple enough to bring out the songs themselves, while giving them enough polish to give them a life of their own. In particular, the guitar work on The Break-In is tasty and complementary.

The simplistic beauty of “When and If” kicks off the album, and is followed by “Bird Never Flies,” a song Hest co-wrote with Gary Louris (Jayhawks, Golden Smog). This song, as well as “When to Quit” or the title track, have a throwback vibe akin to '70s coffeehouse music like America, Firefall, or Loggins & Messina — or in today’s world, like another prolific artist in this genre, Josh Rouse. “Leaving Her Alone” is equally sad and painfully triumphant, the sign of someone who is trying to move on after a breakup. That, and it may be Hest’s best song to date. “Right of Way” is a driving number along the lines of “Aberdeen” on Hest’s debut. Finally, “I’ve Got You” has the classic feel of a crooner, but with a modern pop sensibility.

While it’s true that Ari Hest should be following the natural progression of an artist with a few albums and a ton of songs under his belt, he certainly isn’t expected to be this good this soon. But he is. If you’re a fan of Hest’s already, you’re going to fall in love with this album in no time flat. And if you’re not a fan yet, well, you should be.

~Mike Farley