Cut Worms: Cut Worms [Album Review]

Cut Worms
Cut Worms
Jagjaguwar [2023]

Besides making the case that all the good band names have been taken, Max Clarke’s third, self-titled album as Cut Worms feels like an attempt to take singer/songwriter pop music back to the early days of rock & roll before the Beatles and Stones started speeding things up, with front-loaded loud guitar rhythms. Recalling the era when Carole King was still writing with her first husband Gerry Coffin for singers like Bobbie Vee and Tony Orlando, while songwriters like Neil Sedaka and Beach Boy Brian Wilson were developing a modern take on piano pop, Clarke has developed 9 mid-tempo pop ballads with a decidedly retro feel. For instance, “I’ll Never Make It” sounds like it could easily have been covered by Earl-Jean Reavis who had a hit with King and Coffin’s “I’m Into Something Good” in 1964, or anyone of that era, while “Is It Magic?” could easily be a lost Wilson demo that Mike Love and company never got their hands on.

Clarke cuts two tracks here with the Lemon Twigs, brothers Michael and Brian D’Addario, playing bass and piano respectively. “Don’t Fade Out” relies on a piano foundation, with Clarke singing the pop harmony and playing guitars and additional keyboards, creating a solid groove and seems to fade out for an excruciatingly long time at the end, likely due to the title. “Living Inside” feels like an old-school song of adolescent romance from a distant past, where the shy tenor singer assures the girl of his dreams that he can imagine “living inside your love” if, you know, “maybe (he) could walk you home sometime.”

The remaining tracks were cut with input from the Cut Worms live band, drums by Noah Bond, bass by Keven Lareau, piano on a couple by John Andrews, while Rick Spataro adds bass, guitar and piano on “Ballad of the Texas King,” which includes some twangy country feel in the guitar solos and fills. “Let’s Go Out on the Town” imagines people cruising by, driving and/or dancing all night long, but it’s a low-key party, nothing too loud or rambunctious, perhaps at a 50’s era diner. Clarke has purposely kept things close, focused on the melodies, and avoided piling up on the basic elements of the song, which while artfully displayed, is not particularly compelling in this current climate.

“Don’t Fade Out” / “Let’s Go Out On The Town” / “Ballad Of The Texas King”

Brian Wilson / Sufjan Stevens / Carole King

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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