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Due North (Liam Kazar) – music review

Before 2019, Liam Kazar had built a hefty reputation as a band member, dating back to work with the band Kids These Days, and more recently as support player with a variety of local artists, from Tweedy (Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy with his drummer son, Spencer), Steve Gunn, Daniel Johnston, to Chance the Rapper. Here on his solo debut, Due North, Kazar works to define his own sound from a myriad of classic rock and pop influences, balancing uplifting, bouncy 70’s-era keyboard pop against singer/songwriter acoustic guitar based folk/rock, giving each his own unique musical and lyrical twist.

The album opens with three poppier efforts, each with a quirky synth sound laying the groundwork, “Old Enough for You” has a playful Todd (“Bang the Drum All Day”) Rundgren-like melody, while “Shoes Too Tight” has a familiar playground chant vibe, not unlike War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” But as fun as those tracks are, Kazar switches gears with the gentle country meets R&B leaning pop of “Nothing To You,” and the dreamy folk rock of “On a Spanish Dune.” Kazar’s musical dexterity relies on the sturdy rhythm section of Spencer Tweedy on drums and Lane Beckstrom on bass, strong backing vocals from Ohmme, consisting of Kazar’s sister Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, and Andrew Sa, with some gorgeous pedal steel guitar playing throughout from co-producer James Elkington. You hear the combined strengths of Kazar’s songwriting and the utility of his supportive players most strongly on the light funk of “Frank Bacon.”

The record closes with another trio of more sentimental folk/rock balladry, starting with “No Time for Eternity,” with Sa sharing lead vocal. The lyrics here touch on the emotional line Kazar attempts to walk: acknowledging that life can be hard because “Tragedy’s a mystery,” but “nothing that’s here lasts forever,” so while “holding on to our love while we are just having fun,” so we ought to be “dancing in the sunshine together.” Kazar wants to share in “Give My World,” and draw the listener close like a good friend and whisper “Something Tender.” In the ten songs of Due North, there’s an unmistakable sense of an artist working to find their own voice amid a myriad of influences, creating songs that honor the deep feelings of our lives, something we share because “I’ve Been Where You Are,” while freeing us to connect and dance even if when our “Shoes Too Tight.”

Brian Q. Newcomb
For more of Brian Q. Newcomb’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note

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