My first impression of Robert Leo Newton’s new CD, Coyote, was that the cover looked like a cross between Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and a Meat Puppets album. Upon examining the case and insert I was expecting to hear a gritty, slightly weird punk album. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but I must say I was still pleasantly surprised.
The album opens with a sparse guitar and voice piece, “Let’s Do Something”. It’s a happy go lucky romp that introduces you to the singer. Robert’s voice is a bit of young, slightly nasal baritone that gets a little raspy at times. Halfway through the song the pseudo-psychedelic sound effects kick in. I’m personally not a big fan of Ravi-Shankar space-sitar sounds, but they complement the simple arrangement. The song is short and to the point.
Track two brings a full band into the mix. The grooving rocker “Aint it Great?” gets your foot tapping a little more and exhibits an experienced songwriter with catchy melodies and interesting, if slightly cryptic, lyrical sensibilities. The guitar solo in the middle section of the song lets us know that Mr. Newton isn’t afraid to show off his chops a little bit, and may be a bit of a jazzer. This tune also wraps up promptly and is probably my favorite song on the CD.
Other highlights of the album include “Planted in Sand”, a brooding minor folk ballad with some nice harmonies and intriguing storytelling; “Baby Can’t Play No More”, an acoustic tune with a Latin feel and interesting percussion; and “All The Way” in which Robert croons like some kind of folk-singer version of Jim Morrison. The album wraps up with another acoustic number complete with spacey sounds and sentimental balladry.
I was impressed to read that Robert played all of the instruments himself on the record. The playing is reserved for the most part, and most of the time the instruments serve the song. Overall, the songwriting is a bit conservative, but genuine and integral. There is a clear love for the American tradition of songwriting tinged with the attitude of Rock and Roll. Audiophiles will likely not be too crazy about the production quality. There were a few times where I had to adjust the volume between tracks and a little extra care for compression would have been nice. The production does not stand in the way of the songs though, and listeners of the indie and punk variety should have no problem.
Coyote is a strong effort by a gifted songwriter and lyricist. With a little more effort put into the audio engineering aspect Mr. Newton has the right tools to craft an exceptional Rock and Roll album, and Coyote is a good taste of what that may be.