Bryan Estepa returns with album number five and it continues the rich vein of effortless 70s singer/songwriter vibes, a dose of soulful yacht rock and the sweet and lonesome side of country music.
Every Little Thing finds Estepa reconfiguring his band (The Tempe Two) to a trio of bass, drums and guitars and it was a good call, it suits his songs perfectly. It allows the songs to breathe more, strong vocal harmonies ringing out and hanging in the air while the rhythm section finds a wealth of interesting paths to explore – from lightly swinging funk to tumbling, propulsive rhythms.
Sensitivity in songwriting is nothing new but it so often descends into soporific and saccharine sentimentality or self-absorbed wallowing. Estepa successfully walks the fine line between that and a bruised, honest and often resolute romanticism. Over a finger-picked guitar and strings on At Least You Didn’t Know he recalls Elliott Smith, while on Sooner Or Later he dials in a wistful, dreamy melancholy that quietly screams optimism.
The yacht rock sound that Estepa explored on his previous album Heart Vs Mind are again present, though they are now more subtly absorbed into the songs and indeed the album as a whole. Steely Dan and Hall & Oates are updated with the kind of sweet and soulful sounds that Wilco do so well and though there are clear antecedents in Estepa’s songwriting style, from the Beatles to The Jayhawks, he never falls into the trap of replicating the style of his heroes. He acknowledges and references them with a clever chord change, a vocal reach or a knowing groove; always keeping his own stories and voice at the forefront of his music. Every Little Thing is beautifully recorded and stacks up as Estepa’s most complete and concise set of recordings to date.