Review: Nick Waterhouse’s Time’s All Gone

Nick Waterhouse: Time's All GoneNick Waterhouse: Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure, 5/1/12)

“Some Place”

[audio:|titles=Nick Waterhouse: “Some Place”]

The phenomena of the digger-turned-frontman is nothing new — often the youth of a record fiend leads to a life on stage. It’s just that, well, these days, the digging is deeper and the diggers are a bit more passionate about sounding just like their heroes. The wonder is that sometimes they do just that.

Don’t let the Buddy Holly spectacles put you off San Francisco’s 25-year-old Nick Waterhouse — whom we correctly guessed was a record-digging DJ even before reading up on him, just like, ahem, soul revivalist Mayer Hawthorne. This young guy loves the sound of records as much as the music on them — and what he lacks in originality he makes up for in fervent, giddy exploration of sounds and styles nearly half a century old.

And don’t mistake Waterhouse and band for another straight-up soul revue — the tunes that were cut for the record are wildly varied. His cultivated sound draws from classic R&B, a bit of garage (on record, he turns stomper “I Can Only Give You Everything” into a simmering soul number), surf, soul, and even jazz (a young Mel Torme comes to mind) of the ’50s and ’60s stirred into a breathless urbane blend. It has a dizzying affect when it hits its mark, and when it slouches, it does so innocuously. Waterhouse’s pastiche has a precedent: Belgium’s popcorn club scene, analogous to the northern soul of Britain, which was more focused on a pop vocal in its obsession with American R&B singles.

The wide breadth of his interests gives him a leg up; he rarely repeats himself on Time’s All Gone, which feels more like a collection of singles than an album. On record, Waterhouse’s band The Tarots uses punchy horns and gritty organ while trading in trad song structures and tightly formatted jams — as noted on the title track. Waterhouse peaks when he croons on “Raina,” a spine-tingler for the lovelorn that pits the young singer against a deep sax line. It’s a stone classic. Single “Some Place” has all his trademarks of swinging R&B. Throughout, his female backup crew turns in fine harmonies, but all together, Time’s All Gone isn’t an overly slick affair. And no one would mistake Waterhouse for a Chicago or Detroit soul singer of the era — his is a distinctively Caucasian timbre — but he does wonders with what he has. Though they’re spare, there are a few bum notes, including “(If) You Want Trouble,” which falls flat somehow. It might be too simple, revealing the limitations of the whole enterprise.

But back to Waterhouse’s love of obscure vinyl gems: it also informs his taste in record-making. Time’s All Gone might have been recorded to one microphone live from all we can tell. It sounds fantastic, unforced, and organic, if you’re okay with mono — which you should be if you’re going to dive into some Nick Waterhouse.

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