Putting out new music, generally, is a risk. If an artist hopes to capture a bigger audience than their previous efforts, they’ll have to do something different to win over new fans but sometimes that change can turn their loyal fans off. Take, for example, Mumford & Son‘s dramatic new direction on their latest album, “Wilder Mind” which was met with polarizing reviews.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Idol alum Michael Sarver to talk about his new album “Begin Again” in advance of its release. After revealing the track listing, Sarver released 30 second clips of each of the songs on his website, giving fans a taste of what was to come. After Sarver’s previous self-titled album under a different label, it was hard to know what to expect from the country singer in his sophomore effort, but Sarver assured me that the sound would be true to himself and true to his aptitude for telling stories with each track.
Even from the previews, I knew to expect a little southern rock influence in there. Sarver has demonstrated, on Idol and since, that his voice is capable of the kind of power that lets him kick it into high gear and these tracks are often some of my favorites. His more bombastic side gives the album a strong opening amongst the electric guitars in the first track, “Feel Loved”, a song about the way the right person can make you feel. Sarver continues this heavy-hitting type of country music on the album’s fifth track with “Like to Like You”, a song with more sexual energy and swagger that touches on the subject of a man’s weakness for the right woman. Then in “Place I Call Home”, Sarver shows us the raspy side of his voice in a southern rock anthem that paints a picture of quintessential Southern life and what makes it so appealing. Each of these tracks stood out to me when I heard the previews because of their high energy, but in some of the other tracks Sarver also shows that he can paint a vivid picture, drawing you in with his music.
As a listener, you can relate to Sarver’s nostalgia in “Memories“, his desperation on the title track “Begin Again” and his ambition in “First Time“, a track that was co-written by fellow Season 8 Idol alum Matt Giraud and has a tinge of Billy Joel’s classic sound to it. As Sarver said to me in our interview, these songs demonstrate that he’s aware of the power music has to make you feel things, good or bad, and let’s face it, a little lovelorn nostalgia isn’t always a bad thing either. Sometimes, as Sarver told me, it helps people heal old wounds.
Sarver single, “Miss You Like Something Crazy“, which has been met with great feedback from fans and new listeners alike and is climbing the charts, isn’t out-of-place among other more traditional country songs that seem apt for Sarver’s soulful and blues sensibilities. “Love What You Do” is down tempo jam, that’s a bit R&B and a bit old school country. In contrast, “All of the Above” goes full ballad, letting the deeper part of Sarver’s voice shine backed by an acoustic guitar. The album’s final song “Letting Go” is the quietest moment on the album, where the meaning behind the track’s title is so painfully clear and it feels like the song could be most effectively delivered live by just Sarver and an acoustic guitar and nothing more. This track is perhaps the most raw example of that “healing power” that Sarver told me music can have for him and, hopefully, for his fans.
Sarver also told me in our interview that he wasn’t aware of his thick accent until he landed in L.A. for Idol, but if he wasn’t aware of it then, he certainly is now. He plays off it in “When I Drink“, a cheeky song about Sarver’s own personality after a few beverages that ends with a concert-style sing along that wouldn’t be out-of-place at an outdoor summer music festival. “Livin’ It Up” also shows off a bit of Sarver’s self-depreciating humor in his music. At the chorus, Sarver takes the song to another level that makes it stick in your head after.
Given the diversity on Sarver’s album from soulful love songs to quiet ballads, and from catchy country to high energy southern rock, it’s easy to say that Sarver has certainly taken “what worked” from his first album: his ability to tell stories that fans relate to and his ability to defy strict classification in the country genre, and improved upon it, giving listeners a new piece of his soul. It’s hard to walk away from the album and not feel like you know a little bit more about who Sarver is, but I think that’s what makes the album worth listening to because, if anything, the album also teaches you a bit more about yourself.
Sarver’s album “Begin Again” is now on iTunes in the US, Canada and other countries. Sarver will be playing at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Nashville, TN to celebrate the album’s release on Friday June 12th, 2015 at 6PM so be sure to check him out if you’re in the area. For more details, check out his official website: michaelsarver.com