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This self-titled debut from local pop songwriter Ashbury Keys has been quite some time in the making. As such it's both a study in the value of woodshedding one's material before emerging publicly and a potential answer to the existential question: If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?
After a couple of very short-lived attempts to get things off the ground under the name Space Monkey, Keys finally seems to have his campaign legs under him. His gigs around town are both frequent and well promoted. And Keys is as fine an avatar of guitar pop as you're likely to hear locally in some time. At this record's most up-tempo, on such songs as "Boat to Mars" and "Los Angeles," the Keys sound is not too far removed from the rawness of Matthew Sweet or the contemplative jingle of Nick Lowe. A little of the self-conscious artistry of Sweet is missing, as is some of Lowe's Briton bravado, but the delivery here is sharp and concise. Keys is definitely his own man.
The real gem of the disc comes on "Color of My Eyes." Yearning yet confident, midtempo without being plodding, and with hooks around every corner, it is both a songwriter's and a casual radio listener's dream. Upon repeated listening, nearly all of Keys's songs can be found to have something to recommend them for the top of the heap. And those that don't fall short simply because they sound too much like Morrissey B-sides. Not quite yet, Ashbury.
A veritable "who's who" of local talent contributed to Ashbury Keys, yet they manage to sound like a cohesive whole, a feat due at least as much to the strength of the material as to the abilities of the players. Further, with a solid live lineup in place, Keys should finally get heard outside his practice room.