Bryan Estepa’s “origin story” in audio, if you will, is not only a peek at the not-so-distant past, but a confirmation of his core strengths.
Prequels are lovely things. To me they’re more than yellowing snaps in cracked leatherbounds; they’re testaments to one’s core. When you look at someone’s kid photos—chipped teeth, era-appropriate fashions, all manner of quiet embarrassments—you’re likely to zero in on the before-and-after incongruencies rather than the constants.
But to my mind, the latter is more intriguing: the piercing eyes; the restless spirit that rises above the Polaroid; that sliver of melancholy in the voice that’s beyond timbre, tone, or (alas) age.
We’ve all heard and dug Bryan Estepa’s troubadour stylings from the past couple of years, and now, for his seventh release Adeline (The Early Years), we’re seeing his backstory in audio, if you will. Aided by the ready-and-steady musicianship of collaborators like Tom Sowonja, Paul Traynor, Chris Duffy, Dan Nash and Matt Everingham, Estepa is offering listeners a rare (but familiar-feeling) peek.
Estepa first started writing and performing under said moniker—culled from the Elliott Smith song “Sweet Adeline,” the tune from the heartrending record XO, not to be confused with the barbershop classic by The Mills Brothers—as a way to anonymize himself.
“It did take me a few years to be comfortable and brave enough to perform under my own name. However, those formative years as Adeline was such a fun time and became an important part of my development as a songwriter, musician, and band leader,” the musician says, his fondness for that brief period (2001-2004) palpable.
While lacking in the kind of dimensionality only adulthood, time, and circumstance can provide—abundant in well-loved Estepa numbers like “Weight of Gold,” “Trick of the Light,” and “I’m Not Ready for This”—these decidedly analog, recorded-to-tape new-old tracks from Adeline remain immensely enjoyable.
They boast of a practical (but by no means slapdash) musicality. They sport memorable melodies. They aren’t overproduced hype pieces. They value introspection over sheen.
There’s an early-Wilco, mid-career-Big Star old-timey/bar-rock energy in “Start Again,” “Slip Slowly,” and “Saved”; a tasteful midtempo moodiness in “All That Was There,” “Never Be the Same,” and “Better Days”; and a jangle that jolts and jiggles at the heartstrings in “Lullaby” and “Getting On.”
“This is a good reflection and representation of my beginnings as a solo artist and songwriter—a very important period in my ‘career’ and musical journey,” the Australia-based tunesmith adds.