First Impressions: Porchlight by Everett Wren

Porchlight, the solo debut from Everett Wren, is an old-school outing that’s accented by echoes of long ago. At times his vocals are plaintive and sure, weathered and worn, while his songs are rooted in—but not tied to—the music styles of yore, with his prowess on fiddle often taking centerstage. Yet it’s not all about plucked strings. On first listen, for instance, the blaring of a trumpet on “Sliver of a Moon” surprised me; it’s like a blast of New Orleans jazz into old-time goings on.

(Baxter Bulletin, 11/17/1982)

The first thing to know, I suppose, is that Everett Wren is a stage name that’s drawn from Wren’s given middle name and, he says, the birds that nest on the front porch of his Austin, Texas, home; Wren is (perhaps) better known under his birth name, Chris Peterson. Long ago, he won the Arkansas State fiddling championship, performed with his family’s namesake band and, in the 1990s, the alt.country group Wagon, before moving on to the Austin-area bands Lost & Nameless and Chalkboard Poets, both of which he cofounded. Somewhere in there, he also busked in Europe, earned a master’s degree in acoustics from the University of Texas at Austin, and landed what looks to be a cool day job with Dell.

Porchlight is a 15-track, hour-long endeavor, with 12 of those songs originals that Wren either wrote or cowrote. “Billboard” was inspired by the Steve Martin movie L.A. Story; what led him to write it and the other originals can be found here. One song that resonates beyond the grooves (or should I say bytes?) is “Treaty,” which was inspired Austin’s Treaty Oak. That mighty tree is thought to be 500+ years old. “You are roots, we are branches/we heal together somehow,” he sings, piecing together the history cloaked within the tree’s long shadow.

Another highlight is the nostalgia-wrapped “Wardrobe,” which features—I think—Seylon Stills on lead vocals. (The downside to digital-only releases is the lack of proper credits.) It smolders akin to the embers of memory, with wisps of smoke percolating through the songs’ grooves. Many of the songs feature the fiddle up front—for good reason—but they also make room for other instruments, including guitar and mandolin. “Have We Lost,” a duet with fellow Chalkboard Poet—and fellow fiddle player extraordinaire—Kimberly Zielnicki, is another sublime moment.

I’ve said before on this blog that the optimal length for an album is about 45 minutes; this one drives a tad deep into the overtime abyss for my taste, forcing timeouts to deal with work concerns, feline matters and other issues. Too, some songs—such as the ones I singled out above—work better than others (though even those others are solid). That said, while not perfect, Porchlight is still worthy of many listens. Give it a go.

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