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Vince Agwada - Eyes of the City

One has to imagine that a certain number of musicians must wish that Jimi Hendrix had never existed. In the same way that Mozart changed classical composition forever, Hendrix changed the face of guitar-based music. Despite the best efforts of folks like John Mayall and Paul Butterfield, it wasn’t until Hendrix that rock and blues truly co-existed in a brand new form. Ever since then, anyone who’s even approached Hendrix’s sound has been labeled a “copycat,” and hung out to dry.

For more cynical listeners, Vince Agwada could be counted among the aforementioned ranks due to his earthy vocals and spaced-out guitar sounds. However, such estimations are short-sighted and generally inaccurate, as Agwada provides a wholly different listening experience, and one quite enjoyable in its own right. Whereas Hendrix was preoccupied with bringing the blues to rock, Agwada is more interested in bringing rock back to the blues, and the best parts of Eyes of the City revel in this juxtaposition. Drums bang loudly, guitars are drenched in feedback, and studio embellishments accentuate the rock-like nature of many of Agwada’s compositions. The resulting album is an enjoyable, albeit uneven affair.

In keeping with the rock theme, several of the tracks on Eyes of the City stretch past the seven minute mark, and include some of the album’s best moments. “Rain,” a slow-burner that clocks in at a hefty 7:59, accentuates Agwada’s skill at composing disjointed cascades of sound that somehow come together into compelling songs held in place by his warm, nuanced voice. Similarly, the herky-jerky swing of “Does It Really Matter” shows how a lack of specificity can be a kind of specificity all its own. Even when Agwada takes on more conventional material like album opener “It’s a Shame,” he does so with considerable flair. “Confidence Man,” the sole cover on the album, is absolutely delightful as a point of connectedness between these two extremes.

This is not to say that Eyes of the City is without its missteps. The title track is fraught with synthetic drums and keys, and acts as an underwhelming, plastic-feeling closer to the album. Another of the seven-minute-plus tracks, “Ellie,” equally overwrought, is an instrumental track that boasts Eyes of the City’s most conventional instrumentation. After proving himself capable of pulling off frenetic, tangled compositions on the majority of the tracks, such pedestrian outings feel like a non-event. Indeed, some of the album’s less intricate tracks begin to feel downright ordinary after a few listens. The by-the-numbers political commentary of “Tubed Out” doesn’t help matters, either.

Regardless of these issues, Eyes of the City is a very enjoyable album and gives a clear picture of Vince Agwada as an artist in his own right, not just the summation of those that came before him. Enjoying the album may take a bit of patience as Agwada’s style can be tough to crack at times, but the enduring listener will certainly be rewarded.

by John McCormick

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