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Mando Saenz

Watertown (Plethorazine/Angus Records)

Everyone has to start someplace. Lyle Lovett, for instance, admits that he started out trying to be Willis Alan Ramsey. And whether it's by coincidence, influence or intent, Mando Saenz sounds and writes like a cross between Ramsey and Lovett in their youth, which isn't a bad place to begin. After all, it signals that Saenz brings an artistic approach to the Texas singer-songwriter school, which these days is littered with the artless.

Saenz's Watertown is a place of poetic reflection and rumination. Saenz thinks about what he sees, hears and feels, and it shows in his songs. The phrases here are generally as well turned as a classic quatrain, and he frequently hits on keen observations and resonant images. With the able musical assistance of the Cherry Ridge Studios crew of steel guitarist Tommy Detamore and fiddler/guitarist/mandolinist Bobby Flores, Saenz's songs become atmospheric mood pieces that gently seduce the ears like a Texan cousin to the linear country-rock of Son Volt. But that said, little here ever truly grabs one's attention, and Saenz would do his fine writing a service by enunciating his words more clearly.

These observations are mere quibbles, however, with such a genuine artist. The prevailing gray-day patina of Watertown might beg a bit more sunshine, and Saenz would be more persuasive if he ladled out a dollop more authority, but he's marked himself here as a gifted singer-songwriter whose craft shows care and a poetic flair. If he develops more distinctiveness and power in his presentation, Mando Saenz might one day be someone another developing talent wisely chooses to emulate.

 
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