CD Review of Almost and Always by David Mead
David Mead: Almost and Always
Recommended if you like
Andrew Bird, Ron Sexsmith,
Andy Davis
Label
self-released
David Mead:
Almost and Always

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

()

F
orget betting on old baseball games or buying up stock in Microsoft and Apple before the tech boom – if time travel is ever invented, one of the first items on this writer’s to-do list will be traveling back to 1999 and visiting radio program directors across the country to figure out how, exactly, David Mead’s transcendent debut single, "Robert Bradley’s Postcard," avoided becoming a huge, cross-format smash hit. Despite a tackle box full of hooks and some brilliant pop production, "Postcard" tanked, setting the tone for the rest of Mead’s brief tenure at RCA – and his post-majors career, which has been spent, thus far, wandering the indie landscape, releasing a succession of ever lovelier albums to a steadily dwindling fanbase. It’s gotten so bad that his latest effort, Almost and Always, is just now sneaking into American storefronts via a barely-promoted digital release, minus any kind of label logo (Mead’s own imprint, Tallulah Media, has apparently gone the way of the dodo) or coherent promotional plan. Mead’s official site is still decked out with the artwork and widgets for his last album, 2006’s Tangerine, and its news section hasn’t been updated since 2007; if not for the artist’s periodic MySpace blog posts, it’s possible no one outside his immediate family would know Always was available for purchase.

Actually, that’s possible anyway – which is a shame, because just like his five previous releases, Almost and Always finds Mead combining the fluid grace of old-school Tin Pan Alley songwriting with an arch postmodern wit and an unselfconsciously pretty singing voice. It’s a nifty trick, and one that he should, by all rights, be performing before a larger audience. So why isn’t David Mead huge? It’s a question with a lot of answers, not the least of which is the fact that since tripping the pop fantastic with "Robert Bradley’s Postcard," he’s focused increasingly on slow-to-mid-tempo ballads; if you aren’t willing to invest the time it takes to get inside it, much of Mead’s post-debut work sounds pretty much the same. He’s clearly more comfortable with the slow stuff – even the comparatively brassy Tangerine, while enjoyable, felt somewhat forced – and although it’s hard to fault an artist for understanding his strengths, when the results are as sleepy as Almost and Always, it’s just as hard not to wish he’d branch out a little.

So that’s the bad news, then. The good news is that Mead’s songs are still as technically sound as ever, and if you enjoyed quieter efforts such as Mine and Yours and Indiana, you’ll find a lot to love here. From the vaguely Hawaiian lilt of the opening track, "Rainy Weather Friend," through to the hushed, benedictory closer, "Home," this presents Mead at his most sweetly melancholy. While it isn’t a depressing album – during "Rainy Weather Friend," Mead even mentions "too many songs in minor keys," saying he "had to change the music" – it is almost unrelentingly slow and quiet, and although it deserves a better fate, it would make for fine background music.

Going forward, it’s hard not to wonder how much longer Mead will keep plugging away at his solo career; in terms of both content and promotion, it feels like he’s extremely conscious of the wall in front of him – and that he’s running out of ways to get over, around, or through it. As a result, Almost and Always isn’t Mead’s best work, but even as a relative disappointment in the context of his discography, the album has a lot to offer for more discerning (and mellow) pop fans. Until that trip back to 1999 becomes possible, this will have to do.

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