[27 August 2008]
After the solo project bug bit Jenny Lewis in 2006, it seemed only inevitable that another member of Rilo Kiley would embark on his or her own journey for a disc or two. But who would have thought it would be bassist Pierre de Reeder? If anyone, it seemed likely that guitarist Blake Sennett was primed to display his songwriting skills under his own name. Although Sennett and Rilo drummer Jason Boesel did wander off to do a couple albums with the Elected, no true solo album has been made yet. According to the accompanying press release, de Reeder had apparently been crafting songs during the downtime from his main gig. And if his debut, The Way That It Was, is any indication, he’s no slouch in the studio without the direction of Rilo masterminds Sennett and Lewis, though both are featured here along with Boesel.
De Reeder gets right into it with “Shame on Love”, a folky piece with a guitar melody that will find itself stuck to your brain. Building on that feeling is “I’ll Be Around”, a playful track with the same infectious pull. But songs as strong as these lose their steam as others waltz their way into your ear. Although he is a clearly talented craftsman, de Reeder’s weakness rears its ugly head when he slows things down. It’s not a complete mess, but he just doesn’t grab you when the tempo has changed—“Young and Old” being a solid example. As he reminisces and looks to the future, de Reeder is secure in his lyricism, but everything else falls flat. The acoustic strums, the beat, the vocal harmonies—they were all part of that song you liked hearing in the car growing up, but which never made its way to your mixtape. Another weak spot is “Sophia’s Song”. Although it’s a nice little ballad for his daughter, this track has de Reeder treading into all too familiar territory. The sentimentality is appreciated, but the delivery is just not there.
Balancing the album, however, is the Sam Beam-laden “This Foolish Heart”, a sincere expression of love. Further pulling the weights over is “Where I’m Coming From”, one of this record’s best. The scrambling piano and alt-country acoustic guitar draw you in and refuse to let go until the track ends nearly five minutes later. It’s de Reeder at his best and most confident. Also, “Where I’m Coming From” is just a nice break from the more straightforward songs that fill the rest of That’s The Way It Was. Hitting nearly the same heights is “Not How I Believe”. The reverb-drenched guitars that play off the slight psychedelic melodies blend perfectly. And you have to love the ending. De Reeder and many others belt out the chorus as the track fades and a flute whistles in the background.
The lyrical content here isn’t too far of a jump from the words scribbled down by Lewis or Sennett, or most acts for that matter. De Reeder typically deals with relationships (“I’ll Be Around”), growing old (“Young and Old”), and the everyday problems of life. And he delivers the topics with a tender honesty, perhaps too tender. His vocals have a propensity to get lost in the fray of his musical backdrop. Although he can sing well, he never leaves his comfort zone. Think M. Ward without the eccentricity. Instead, de Reeder croons at a steady pace as the guitars, piano, and drums do most of the talking.
This album, like many others of its kind, is a grower. It creeps its way into your daily rotation and before you know it, you might just be in love. De Reeder certainly isn’t treading any new ground or shattering molds on here, but he has shown he can succeed on his own. That’s not to say he doesn’t have work to do in improving his solo game, and even though he will never outshine Rilo by himself, de Reeder isn’t trying to do that. Like other side projects before this, it’s simply a chance for him to display what he brings to the table. If That’s The Way It Was is any indication, it’s clear that he must have had a strong influence on some of Rilo Kiley’s alt-country and folk leanings.