By Robbie Simmons
It is no secret that pop music can often be dishonest, factory-made, overproduced, perfectly calculated music designed to implant itself in the listener’s brain despite a lack of any real substance musically or lyrically. So it was with trepidation and cautious optimism that I played Sammy Witness’ debut full-length album, Tiger Lily, for the first time. The Florida native graduated from college, bought a plane ticket to Seattle, and never looked back. She released her first EP in 2009, a YouTube exclusive EP in 2011, and subsequently ran a successful kickstarter campaign to finance the recording of her album.
Surprisingly, I found Tiger Lily to be opposite of what my worst fears were. Witness’ songs are nothing if not honest, heartfelt and interesting. She does not identify as “pop,” (rather, “folk with a grrr”) and depending on what your definition of “pop” is, that may or may not be accurate. She’s walking in a triangle between indie-rock, folk and pop-rock. The music is catchy enough for the pop market while original enough to be memorable. The lyrics are poetic, candid and relatable. Even more surprising than all that is the presence of a genuine rock n’ roll sensibility uncommon to most of what one experiences in the pop realm, especially with a female singer.
Album opener and first single “Pretty Bird” is dynamic and grooves steadily as the more jazzy qualities of Witness’ voice float over airy pad synths and layered guitars. The juxtaposition of crashing cymbals with acoustic rhythm guitar in the bridge provides a solid introduction to the twelve songs that are to follow. Several tracks employ a sort of rockabilly shuffle, blending folk with rock influence. “Everything to Lose” starts with acoustic guitar and vocals, but what one might imagine will be a pretty folk song builds to an emotionally charged chorus. “Follow Close” is mysterious (perfectly fitting for the lyrics and title) and dangerously catchy. “Tiger Lily,” the album’s title track, is sophisticated, restrained and haunting; Brandon Erdos’ drumming is exacted and engaging.
It also deserves mentioning that producer Jason Dunn played nearly all instruments on the record, and does an excellent job along the way; nothing feels or sounds underwhelming in the least. However Witness’ vocal, though firmly anchored to the music, is under-layered and fits poorly in the mix.
Minor technical discrepancies only noticed by obsessive musicians aside, this is an album everyone can like. Tiger Lily is well written musically and lyrically, easy to connect with and stylistically versatile. It is anything but calculated and factory-made. The world needs more artists like Sammy Witness; sincere, talented and independent.
Sammy Witness will be performing at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge on January 18th for an album release show.