For proof that the Americana genre hasn’t died look no further than Chris Beall, a Texas singer-songwriter reminiscent of Tom Petty (though more of an “American Girl”-era sound than “Mudcrutch”). The comparison is strongest on “Free Again” but it never sounds forced or overtly intentional. The title track to his freshman album, “Brand New World,” is catchy with up-tempo acoustic guitar accompaniment and lyrics that employ a bluegrass/rockabilly style. “The Grass is Always Greener” is a lilting tune with a steel guitar background and ukulele employed to great effect. Beall has a talent for paring the right instrumentation with his gentle vocals.
His voice is strongest on the track “Close to You” with pared down background accompaniment that includes a whimsical xylophone. A true blues track, “Crossroads,” sounds like it should have been included on the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack and hints at some of Beall’s earliest influences. With an almost Elvis Costello or even a late-era Beatles sound at times, Beall is unique among the Americana genre as he borrows styles (blues/ pop/ country/ bluegrass/ folk/ rock) from as many sources as possible to add a layered richness to his work.
Beall’s Sophomore album, “The Gin Mill Hymns” doesn’t necessarily showcase growth so much as industry know-how. Meaning that each song could easily become a radio single- no easy feat. What the music might lose; however, is some of the unexpectedness of “Brand New World.” “The Gin Mill Hymns” is an excellent album though, with its mix of lead instruments, eclectic lyrical subject matter, and Beall’s vocal prowess on full display. His singing is not an exercise in vocal range so much as an example of how a singer can be the perfect complement to a song and act as the strongest instrument on a track. “The Gin Mill Hymns” is a quality product and the true strength of the album comes when Beall mines deeply personal experiences for material.
Chris Beall is an incredibly talented songwriter with lyrics that alternate from playful to contemplative to broodingly philosophical. Lyrics such as, “It’s not the answer; it’s the question we don’t know,” on “The Road Less Travelled” elevate the track and consequently the whole album to a much higher quality effort. It’s “Dug Down Deep,” however, that cements Beall’s place as a consummate songwriter. “Dug Down Deep” is a masterwork in lyrical story-telling as it recounts the true story of Beall’s own father’s 1973 motorcycle accident and the subsequent recovery and impact on the family. “Just a boy with a Daddy/ Who might never make it home again… When he woke up/ wouldn’t be much left of him.”
“Spike Driver Blues” is a fun tribute to the giant of American working-man folklore, big John Henry. Listening to the track recalls the old Johnny Cash tune, “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer,” and is about as Americana as one can get. Most of the tracks are easy to sing along with, particularly “Laura Lynn,” a lighthearted ode to a complicated girl. Either “Brand New World” or “The Gin Mill Hymns” are excellent introductions to a talented artist in a genre that needs more like him in order to survive. Acting as writer, producer, mixer and lead performer, Beall takes full responsibility for his own sound creating two albums that are worthy of high praise.