To say that Ballast, Damon Aaron’s first official long player for Plug Research, has at least two or three memorable, beautiful melodies on songs that could easily break mainstream radio’s Top 40 and still remain credible with an underground audience is not an overstatement. As to whether or not the duration of Aaron’s album contains any more of these gems is a little less cut and dry.
Aaron’s soulful vocals and restrained guitar work have brought him session paychecks from the likes of Telefon Tel Aviv and Build an Ark, among others. Ballast is Aaron’s first time letting his own folky, funky compositions find a place on record. The Californian carries with him the obvious musical guidance, such as Arthur Lee’s and Van Morrison’s catalogues, but he sometimes accents and contemporizes his pieces with wisps of electronics, an occasional drifting synth tone or a programmed beat.
On “Road Map,” Aaron works a gorgeous sunny-afternoon melody into a blend of tremolo organ tones, bass and a waltz-y folk acoustic-guitar line. This is one of the album’s best moments, because it’s the most minimalist and has the staying power of an old favorite. It’s a soothing comfortable blanket for the long drive home. He revisits this on “Don’t Know How it Happens,” and with the same elements he builds sing-along dependability around a familiar walking bass line and cheerful one-liners (“Victory’s coming, really it is”).
This isn’t everywhere on Ballast, and some of the numbers don’t boast the thrill that these tracks do. But that his sincerity and his knack for this kind of energy comes across as strongly as it does, if just for a handful of selections, can only mean great things are to come.