Tough luck would be an appropriate description of singer/songwriter Lee DeWyze’s career as of yet. As the winner of one of the least heralded seasons of Fox’s aging juggernaut American Idol, DeWyze’s major label debut album (Live It Up) was quite the commercial flop for the franchise. After that sole album on a major label, DeWyze found himself dropped, like many fellow Idol alums. On second album of note, Frames, DeWyze seeks artistic redemption; reintroduction if you will. DeWyze aims to put past failure behind him, releasing an effort that feels much stronger and more natural than Live It Up ever could hope to. Based in folk-rock and singer/songwriter fare, Frames proves to be a solid listen, even if it’s nothing particular new or innovative.
“Fight” sets the tone, opening with driving rhythm guitar and clear vocals from DeWyze. Once the four on the floor groove enters, things grow even more rhythmically driven and exciting. DeWyze embraces a folksy sound, making the listener think Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers. “Fire Away” is brief, but packs a mighty punch. Keeping in step with folk, DeWyze continues to embrace ‘himself’ artistically, sounding as if he’s carved his niche and found his zone. “Oh fire away, fire away / I’m saving all my fire for another day / So you go right ahead and fire away”, DeWyze confidently delivers on the refrain. He closes out a fine opening trio with enjoyable single “Silver Lining”, which sounds like his own version of Phillip Phillips’ beloved “Home”. Both cuts are different obviously, but DeWyze definitely scores.
Title track “Frames” is above average, though even more backing vocal support by DeWyze could’ve accentuated his lead even more. The addition of the trumpet (Philip Dizack) definitely provides timbrel contrast to the previous numbers. He follows up with “Like I Do”, which is relatively simple, but continues to showcase DeWyze’s underrated talents. The vocal harmonizations throughout are a definite lift. On “Open Your Eyes”, the overall sound of the record possesses more depth than the songwriting itself. While “Open Your Eyes” experiments are welcome, specifically the use of synthesized instrumental ideas, a bit more lyrical prowess and development would’ve been welcomed.
“You Don’t Know Me” redirects any lost momentum, contrasting “Open Your Eyes” with a funkier groove that’s definitely ‘in the pocket’ as jazz musicians say. Produced by Julian Emery, the production shift from previous cuts pays dividends by all means, giving Frames a slightly different sound. “The Ride” continues on the lofty momentum, with DeWyze delivering soulful, raspy vocals, further accentuated by distortion effect. A head-nodding groove anchoring it down and memorable lyrics and “The Ride” rocks: “But you knew better than I / Somewhere buried under the lies / You’d wait, you’d wait and you’d see / The time it takes to bend someone’s knees / And who knew better than you … .” There it is.
“Don’t Be Afraid” doesn’t reach the same level of success, but that doesn’t make it a bad cut – just less heralded. Similarly, “Stay Away”, a tight three-minute cut, sports a nice overall sound, but lacks great lyrical depth. “Little Did I Know” is pleasant, but “Who Would’ve Known” touches more, as DeWyze details the narrative of his marriage (“And who would have know that I’d ever get to see her in her gown / And who would have thought that the two of us would ever give our vow.”). DeWyze collaborates with renowned songwriter Toby Gad on the brief, though thoughtful number. Closer “Breathing In” welcomes some sound enhancements via the trumpet, fiddle, cello, and mandolin. DeWyze states that, “The only thing bringing me in / Is the taste of your lips and the smell of your skin / You’re the only thing that’s worth breathing in.” Schmaltzy perhaps, DeWyze does come off as sincere.
All in all, Frames has some great moments. Calling the album a home run would be an overstatement, but DeWyze certainly redeems himself with this better conceived effort. Likely, this set won’t make DeWyze a star, particularly in a crowded genre. That said, for a guy who seems to be genuinely happy just making music and doing what he loves, who needs stardom?