Artist: Ken Francis Wenzel
Album: ……Beneath Potomac Skies
Ken Francis Wenzel says that each track on his new album ‘…Beneath Potomac Skies’ is designed to be an almost self-contained vignette. Not necessarily connected, but each a slightly different insight into American life. After spending two years putting together his first record with a full band, it ties together the various strings of his existence, the time he has spent in cities across the country, and the ways they both interconnect and differ. It’s a bold ambition, something approaching Springsteen by the way of Steinbeck. Whilst setting lofty ambitions is to be applauded, it can also serve to illustrate the failure to reach such potential.
Over the course of twelve tracks, Wenzel approaches his various themes and ideas in much the same fashion. In this respect, the ‘Potomac Skies’ sound similar to the ‘Landing Lights.’ Both are mid-paced pop tunes with a hint of country and a dash of rock. They’re structured in a similar fashion and even the guitar tones sound the same. If these relate to different elements of Wenzel’s life up to this point, musically they sound very similar. That is not to say they’re bad songs. They’re put together with care, touching on the artist’s influences in a reverential but not indebted manner. But for an artist striving towards such vaunted ambitions, the analogous approach to recording each track leaves little of the geographical personality to bear on the music.
For listeners dipping in and out of the album, the tracks provide a pleasant, catchy opportunity to learn more about the artist. We discover more about Ken Francis Wenzel and the events and energies that have influenced his life. But they often leave little room for the peculiarities of the places he visits. Washington sounds much like Las Vegas, which in turn sounds very like California. As we travel across the country, we keep Wenzel as our constant. Maybe that’s the point, to show the perseverance of personhood over any particular place. But for an album so indebted to the country of its creation, listeners sitting through the whole album might find themselves wishing to learn as much about the journey as they do about the traveler.
‘…Beneath Potomac Skies’ is a pleasing collection of well-played and cared for songs. Ken Francis Wenzel has treated each one with the kind of affection that shines through the production. Lyrically and musically, listeners can have few complaints. But there might be those who were wishing the album just took that extra step towards being complete.
by Huw Thomas