“It’s midnight on the avenue / I’ve never felt more alive / Makes no difference what I do / Am I livin’ to just survive?” sings a plaintive Reed Waddle in the opening lines of his new single “Bells of Brooklyn,” one of two songs he’s releasing this April ahead of an upcoming LP titled Time the River. Alongside “Too Bright to Fade Away,” “Bells of Brooklyn” features vulnerable lyricism from an unguarded singer/songwriter willing to open up like few of his peers have in recent times. With nothing to hide from his audience, Reed Waddle steps up to the mic fully exposed here, ready to embrace the spotlight.
As moving as the lyrics in “Bells of Brooklyn” are, I feel like the instrumentation is a little more expressive in tone than the words are on a surface level. There’s more of an aesthetical equilibrium present in “Too Bright to Fade Away,” but overall, there’s scarcely an instance in either of these tracks where the harmonies aren’t adding some level of artistic context to the verses. Waddle is utilizing every tool at his disposal here, but stopping short of over-exhausting his resources at the same time.
The percussion is a little loud in the master mix of “Too Bright to Fade Away,” but to some extent, I suppose it would make sense for the beat to be a bit more physical in this song than I’d expect it to be. There’s an increased degree of muscularity in the music Waddle is penning here compared to some of the work he’s produced over the past sixteen years, and while it’s not quite as indulgent as some of the surrealism-inspired pop acts I’ve heard lately, it’s certainly in the same ballpark. The main difference? Waddle adheres to concepts in efficiency far more often than he doesn’t.
There’s been a ton of minimalism among modern folk/rock output in the last five years or so, but I love the liberal influence in the songwriting presented to us here. You can tell that, of all the things that were on Reed Waddle’s mind when he entered the studio to record this new pair of songs, conforming to any contemporary trends within his primary genre of music simply wasn’t one of them. He’s got no space in his songcraft for watering-down the music, nor critics like myself who have come to respect him for his approach.
In times of strife, great melodies and easy beats can make all the difference in the world, and although most of the planet is struggling to cope with the ongoing pandemic, artists like Reed Waddle are responding commendably. In his most recent studio dispatches, Waddle is sounding more focused and in touch with his medium than he ever has prior to now, and as I see it, I think we’ll be hearing some of his very best work in the months ahead. I’ll be looking forward to the arrival of Time the River, and after you hear these tracks, I think you will be, too.