The Rip Tide

Zach Condon proved early on that he was capable of manufacturing a sound uninhibited by his age or ethnicity. Five years ago, the nineteen-year-old New Mexico native already had a fetching affection for the foreign, an ear for arrangement, and a signature warble well beyond his years. He rolled out three releases in quick succession, all gems. But that kind of momentum is hard to maintain. Condon's 2009 collaboration with a nineteen-piece Mexican band was adventurous, but didn't necessarily bode well for his staying power as a songwriter.

It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised, though. The Rip Tide isn't pretending anything. Condon clearly doesn't intend to rest on his laurels, but he's not forcing a new direction, either. At only nine tracks, the album still doesn't feel dashed off or incomplete. Condon has grown into a confident, well-rounded composer who knows what he wants and how to get it.

Lyrically, Condon still sounds much like the candid teenager of five years ago. Lodged in the heart of the album, about halfway through "Payne's Bay," there's a meditative pause. Then he confesses: headstrong/today I've been headstrong. His admission of fallibility turns into a refrain that shepherds the album into its second half, which is more tender and less plodding than the first. There are the undeniably catchy cuts, too, such as "Santa Fe," "East Harlem," and "Port of Call." But it's the glimpses of Condon's meek side that are the most interesting, and it's heartening that he's not too far into his career to keep that window open. (Pompeii Records)

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