Friday, July 13, 2007

Homegrown - Local Record Reviews

posted by Free Press Houston @ 9:24 AM


Arthur Yoria
Handshake Smiles
Review by Jeremy Hart

I've never met a musician, from Houston or anywhere else, who can reinvent themselves as effortlessly from album to album as Arthur Yoria seems to. Just when I think I've got him pegged, he slips out the side and does something totally off the map from what he's done in the past, whether it's shifting from a smooth seducer to a freaked-out, amps-on-eleven rocker or from a rocker to a playful Spanish-speaking troubadour.

With Handshake Smiles, then, Yoria's shifted, chameleon-like, from all of those things into, well, himself. He's gotten a little scruffier, growing back/our his hair and beard, he's not wearing the shiny shirts anymore, and the music feels like a throwback to the things Yoria himself probably listened to growing up. Smiles is all a little rough around the edges -- probably partly because it was done just at a friend's house with a borrowed mic, although it sounds a heck of a lot better than it should for that -- and the songs follow suit, heading off in a more bluesy, more '60s-ish direction that "Goodbye Marisa," off of 2006's Something Must Be Wrong, telegraphed.

The guitars are simultaneously rawer and not as up-front as they have been in the past, the bass and drums grind together nicely -- see the break in "Clean For Free," in particular -- and the band seems relaxed as hell. I've heard Arthur play a fair number of these songs live a few times now, so they tend to sound somewhat familiar to me. Beyond hearing 'em live, though, there's just this warm, intimate, friendly feel to the songs, the kind that makes you feel like you've heard them all somewhere before, maybe on a crackly AM radio station back when radio didn't completely suck. Smiles is the sound of a bunch of guys getting together to chill and jam in their buddy's living room.
Except, of course, that they're not playing half-assed Zeppelin or Stones covers, but are instead playing some damn fine songs of their own. Despite the stylistic changeups, Yoria hasn't lost his songwriting touch, thankfully, and there are few weak moments among the 11 tracks on here. The aforementioned "Clean For Free" is easily a highlight, a languid, bluesy rocker that has Yoria declaring bluntly that he wants out (of a relationship, I'm assuming?) with no strings attached, and he doesn't give a crap about the fallout. "Love Song in G" comes off like a '60s rock love song, somewhere in the realm of a less-poppy Push Kings, while "Sandy" aims for Byrds/Teenage Fanclub heaven with an awesome-sounding organ. Then there's the title track, which swipes half a guitar line (and that lazy-summer-day feel, to boot) from "Brown Eyed Girl" and bumps along contentedly beneath the words.

Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe I'm making too much of all the stylistics changes Yoria's been through over the past four or five EPs and albums. Rocker, folksinger, pop star -- at the end of the day, they're all the same guy, right? Looking back, though, it sure looks like the progression that led up to now was the collective sound of Yoria learning to live inside his own skin. Handshake Smiles is him actually making it there, comfortable with who he is and where he's headed, leaning back with a beer in his hand and a grin on his face.

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