“Six years of my life / From 19 to 25 / I’ve been lost in your eyes / Change / Comes about in waves” starts Leo Sawikin in the paralyzing ballad “Wasting My Whole Life,” one of my favorite songs on the new album Row Me Away. Although one of the more pronounced ballads in the tracklist, “Wasting My Whole Life” embodies much of the emotional weight you can expect to encounter throughout Row Me Away, which is a lot more personal than anything Sawikin has recorded with The Chordaes. This is a punishingly honest piece and one that’s really hard to put down once you pick it up.
I love the unspoiled sway of the rhythm in “If I Stayed” and the pushier “Born Too Late,” and I think it’s through moderate accents like the tempo or tone of performance in Row Me Away that we’re able to appreciate the authenticity of the emotions Sawikin is putting on the line for us. He’s got a lot that he’s getting off of his chest here, both observational and introspective in nature, but he doesn’t sound overextended in his expression at any point in time between track one and ten.
It would be amazing to hear “You Love Too Much,” “A Whole World Waiting,” “All Just a Drop” and “Take What You Want” live and in person sometime, mostly because I think these particular songs might sound even more full-bodied if given the space on stage to breathe, almost like a fine wine. There’s something all the more powerful that comes from bringing a smart arrangement directly to the audience it was crafted for, and while not leaving anything to be desired cosmetically, the substance of Row Me Away feels like a template for what is certain to be a great concert setlist.
There’s just no getting away from the heart Leo Sawikin is hurling at the listeners in “Golden Days (Far Out At Sea),” the title track, and “Tell Me There’s An Answer,” and who would want to? In an age that has been rewarding the removed singer/songwriter who doesn’t have any real intimate connection with the medium they’re shaping, this is a degree of unfiltered intimacy that I could get used to – if not outright addicted to in the right circumstances. Row Me Away is straight-up with us, and that alone makes it unique this autumn.
You can’t ignore a player who has the kind of talent that Sawikin does no matter what kind of a project he’s working on, and this record is easily a piece that sees him evolving away from the band format he’s enjoyed in The Chordaes towards something far larger than life than the status quo calls for. Leo Sawikin’s Row Me Away is a deadly, decadent work of alternative rock balladry and blunt storytelling, and I think it’s going to be viewed as one of the better LPs of its kind to arrive anywhere in the world of indie rock this year.