He may sound like the kind of artist you expect to be playing klezmer music, but New York-based singer-songwriter Israel Nash Gripka is at heart a child of the early 70s with a penchant for sing along folk rock that marks him out as a rival to the errant Ryan Adams.
Evening opens the album with a mid-tempo roots shuffle, all shuffling drums and chiming acoustic guitar over which Gripka announces to his errant beau, “I’ll love you in the morning/Leave you in the evening”. It’s very pretty if slightly inconsequential.
The second track Pray For Rain is where the Adams’ comparisons really come to the surface. The bastard child of New York New York, the two songs even share a certain melodic similarity. However, there is a sly humour at work here that the po-faced Adams often overlooks: “My heart is not a thousand miles away/But I can’t lick you in the face”.
Let It Go completes the extent of Gripka’s songwriting range. This observational and slightly maudlin heart-on-sleeve ballad of love gone wrong actually suits Gripka’s style, the rough edges of his vocals lending the track a warmth and humanity that is endearing (check out the closing Beautiful for more of the same).
Over the full course of its running time New York Town never strays from the blueprint established by the three opening tracks, and what listeners will make of the album will depend on their penchant for this kind of singer-songwriter based material.
It is all very tuneful and tastefully performed, although sometimes a more abrasive musical backing would not go amiss. A case in point is Bricks, a track that boasts the album’s best chorus and a great lyric to boot, but the bog standard folk rock backing means the song never truly flies.
Gripka certainly has the ability to knock out killer one-liners at will: “The window hangs like a movie screen” (You Were Right), “We’ll live like kings/Because tomorrow there’s nothing left” (Confess), “The calendar is a messenger/Of everything I’d said I’d do that’s come to pass” (Let Me Down). As a result New York Town is a grower that gradually reveals its best assets after the surface prettiness has worn thin.
The album’s best track is the bluesy ballad Confess, which explores the details of a failed relationship against the backdrop of an unforgiving New York. The music is restrained and atmospheric and Gripka turns in his best vocal performance.
New York Town is an ambitious first effort that doesn’t quite succeed in all its aims. Gripka has the makings of a great singer-songwriter with his observational eye and a cute understanding of the mechanics of crafting striking couplets. Put him in front of a kick ass rock band and his second album might just fly.