PREMIERE: Max Wareham - Good News


Laura Kerry

Max Wareham’s website bio perfectly encapsulates his music: “He cut his teeth studying jazz at conservatory,” it says, “but now polishes them digging holes on a horse farm.”

He's best known as the bassist in Sun Parade, and has also released music with the studio collective Cousin Moon, but in his first solo studio record, the Northampton-based Wareham leaves behind lively experimentation for quieter, more acoustic pastures. Good News is a folk album that summons its abundant warmth from the glow of acoustic guitar and the beautiful hum of the artist’s voice.

Reminiscent of traditional folk music spanning from England to the Appalachians, 1920s country, and more contemporary indie folk, Wareham’s debut has few frills and no pretensions. Paired with the finger-picked compositions, the lyrics on Good News sometimes come off almost like remixes of old Irish ballads, but the artist makes them sound personal. Often hushed yet charged with feeling, his singing evokes a sense of intimacy as he croons old-timey lines such as, “Twenty years ago I left my old home / Set off to ramble around” (“Laurel Groves”); “If she comes lookin’ / Tell her where I've gone” (“If She Comes Lookin’”); and “Thinkin’ about that pretty little girl / Who broke this heart of mine” (“Roving on a Winter's Night”).

Good News excels at living in the present. On “Talking to My Sister,” he paints a more concrete picture over a picking pattern with sad undertones, singing, “Talking to my sister after the funeral / Stirring black coffee with an old dinner roll.” In “Much Too Much,” he combines past and present in lyrics like, “Fare thee well / Coffee cups / Old hotel,” also venturing into stranger narrative territories such as outer space traveling. Here and elsewhere, Wareham also explores unexpected sonic terrain. In "Much Too Much," he builds his verses around a subdued yet chaotic buzz combining a vocal call-and-response, guitars, and strings before switching to a jaunty horn composition in the chorus fit for an entrance to a royal ball.

Throughout the album, Wareham draws more subtly from this same palette, quietly backing up his singing and guitar playing with an orchestra of fiddles, cellos, bassoons, organs, and other instruments. His jazz roots are apparent in his ability to seamlessly weave together disparate parts and achieve a range of dynamics in a muted swath. The album contains the kinds of intricacies that you feel rather than analyze. With Wareham’s tender voice and skillful, understatedly thoughtful songwriting leading the way, Good News is a touch of warmth as temperatures drop.