Album Review: Lost & Found by Andrew Rohlk
As a young blue-eyed soul singer with a guitar, Andrew Rohlk, in all likelihood, gets plagued with John Mayer comparisons, and while the lazy acknowledgment of likeness probably gets old, it’s not completely unfounded. The blues-inflected guitar licks, smooth vocal deliveries, and jazz-inscribed pop tunes on his debut album Lost & Found, released Wednesday, November 7th, make it difficult for listeners not to imagine some cross between Mayer’s jazz-pop debut album, Room For Squares, and his 2006 blues-pop masterpiece Continuum, with maybe an added Stevie Wonder horn line here and an extra primal Prince scream there.
But to stop at the Mayer comparison is, as previously mentioned, lazy because the reality is that, on Lost & Found, Rohlk delivers the album that many (quite vocal) hipster guitar players around the world wish Mayer would create: one where the indebtedness to past influences from soul, rock, and blues music history outweighs the attempt to produce hit songs.
There’s no pretension in Rohlk’s packaging. The first genre descriptor he uses to describe the album is “pop,” followed by “blue-eyed soul,” and then “indie dork rock.” He’s honest about the fact that the focus at the end of the day is listenability. What separates Rohlk’s songs from the plethora of clean, overly-produced, and soulless soul-pop records is his acceptance of natural musical sounds, often considered imperfections by today’s pop standard.
You can hear open strings ringing out during the guitar riff on “Other Boys.” During the solo on the title track, someone got excited and shouted out, “Hey!” They kept it. These moments allow listeners closer to the experience of hearing Rohlk onstage, as opposed to receiving a record that’s more a product of the studio than the artist himself. In the genre that is soul, qualities like these do nothing but enhance the overall effect of the record, reminding us that when you make soul music, it should, indeed, be soulful.
The tracks on this album are funky, wah-infused, and guitar driven. The keyboard parts provide a sort of ‘70’s soft rock soundscape for Rohlk’s tunes to groove over, while the horns remind you that this is no middle-of-the-road attempt. Most of the lyrics deal with love sought after, found, or failing (“Time to Spend,” “Other Boys,” “For What It’s Worth,” respectively) while others concern themselves with finding and maintaining one’s identity, whether it be through forgoing grad school (“Fine”) or not “taking for granted the chances you’ve been given” (“Riding On a Spare”).
The quality of Lost & Found is, in many ways, a testament to the strength of Richmond’s music scene. One of the most endearing moments on the album features Rohlk riffing over an ensemble of Richmond artists, musicians, and concertgoers singing the chorus of “Heads Or Tails” as the album closes. Not to mention the number of local musicians who performed on additional instruments throughout the tracks, as well as the fact that local singer-songwriter and sound engineer, Elliot Johnson, produced the record.
Andrew Rohlk’s debut presents a sound that seamlessly blends the old and the new into a sonic aesthetic that’s difficult to place, but consistently engaging. It’s rare to be able to say that there’s not a weak song on a debut LP, but Lost & Found stands as a masterful exception. This record could easily one day be regarded as a classic in the Richmond music scene, and stands as one of the strongest local releases of the year.