Washington, D.C.-based Americana act Luke Mitchem is one prolific songwriter, as his latest album, Winter Kissing on the Spring, is his fourth in four years. If one thing’s for certain, Mitchem—who is not quite rock, not quite folk, not quite country, but manages to borrow from all of these genres – certainly loves his ballads as this album is full of them. While there’s certainly commanding stuff to be heard here—“Omaha Lillie” about a stripper, the Bob Dylan-esque “End of the Kingdom”, and the seven-minute “Steamboats Sing Hymns” are just three of the highlights—the problem is that sometimes too much of a good thing is just simply ... too much. The songs tend to get robbed of their power, and seem to stretch on for miles and miles—like a prairie wheat field against the azure sky—and ultimately feel overlong, despite being no more than three or four minutes on average. There’s no question that Mitchem is a great songwriter, but it seems like he’s most comfortable on one setting: veeeeeeeery slow. And staying at a snail’s pace makes one’s material seem veeeeeeeery long. Almost unbearably so.
To give Mitchem some credit, he tries to stir the tempo up on the upbeat “Charlie It’s Alright”, which is the first promotional song released from the album. However, the drums sound tinny and hollow and the piece as a whole feels too cavernous, which is, alas, a fault of production choice. What could have been an effective bit of respite on an album chock full of languid material turns out to be something of a lowlight, and one wonders why this is the song intended to represent the album to interested listeners. All in all, Winter Kissing on the Spring is ... nice. But that’s the only flattering thing that could be said about it. If Mitchem could only write a few more fast songs, and find adequate production to make them seem more bracing and immediate, he might be on the road to something. Basically, Winter Kissing on the Spring is only for those who like their songs to meander. And be veeeeeeeery ... well, you get the picture.