Often times, solo records from lead singers are problematic. Often losing the chemistry that made a band special is lost and often times, a vocalist free from compromise make self indulgent records that lose the things that made them great. For a few years now, Singer/songwriter Tomás Pagán Motta has been making professional but less than memorable Americana records under the pseudonym the Petticoat Tearoom. Motta is now releasing his debut album under his government name on March 3rd via Eight Gang Switch. However, in this case, the music is a definite step up.
Motta’s previous Petticoat Tearoom work, though certainly not bad, has leaned towards run of the mill, 70s-style folk rock/Americana. Again, not awful, just sorta paint-by-numbers kinda stuff. Starting to record under his own name has brought some changes to the music, the production and the performance makes for an altogether unique and individually stylistic experience.
Motta has always been of fine voice, but this new release finds Motta more expressive, and dramatic. He has a quiet-loud-quiet thing going on. His soft voice has much more of a quirky, tic-filled sound, and his throat voice is really passionate. It’s quite a powerful instrument, not unlike emo folker Damien Rice – alternately smoky and melodramatic, and Motta is well served by mixing the record to focus his newly expressive voice. Another major stylistic veer is the shift from the traditionally 70s style Cali Rock to a more modern emo-folk style, while still maintaining the framework of his earlier work.
For those that care—the playing—particularly the guitar playing, is actually above and beyond the average playing. The acoustic leads that pepper Motta’s debut album are speedy and proficient, but elegant. They never detract from the beauty of the vocal line. Lastly, getting rid of the drums frees up the acoustic guitars to be the main percussive force .
Opening track “I Don’t Care” is rhythmically very interesting. Though strummy and up-tempo, the track has no drums and features hauntingly beautiful lap steel that answers the pleading and anxious lead vocal in classic call and response style.
“It’s Tough Letting Go” is also a slight departure for Motta. Rather than the rigid structures of blues-based rock. The intro features open tuning style of guitar that evokes Jimmy Page’s acoustic style on Zeppelin 3 and features both maudlin and soulful violin (which alternately is languidly classical and soulfully fiddle-ish) and prominent female vocals not unlike Zeppelin’s Robert Plant’s later duet record with Alison Krause.
“I Have Been Lost (Reprise)” suggest some of the quieter moments on Jeff Buckley’s Grace record. Here, Motta is at his most melodramatic…. But as the supporting music is so sparse and restrained, the vocals never come across as schmaltzy or loungey, just deeply felt.
I am thanking the stars that the limits set forth by Motta’s previous situation have been lifted and this singer is allowed to be more idiosyncratic and interesting.
Words: Stephe Psi-X
Stream: Tomás Pagán Motta — “I Have Been Lost (Reprise)”
Stream: Tomás Pagán Motta — “Its Tough Letting Go”