Tom Savage- 21st Century Lo-Fi review

Tom Savage 21st Century Lo-Fi

Over the course of a few years and a couple albums, Tom Savage has become a personal favourite.

Everything Intertwined (2017) and Great Beyond (2019), as well as the latter’s companion set of outtakes, Beyond the Great Beyond (2020), have served as my introduction to this veteran Ontario singer-songwriter. Savage fits into the folk-adjacent world of the Josh Ritter variety, but also brings a good chunk of 70s-inspired rock into his music.

With 21st Century Lo-Fi Savage continues this journey, bookending the album with the type of songs we would expect a songwriter of the folk ilk to explore during a pandemic. Just as intriguing is a trio of challenging songs serving as the nervous system of the album, songs that bring to mind various faces of David Bowie, of all people, including guitar threads that remind us of Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick, and creative bass effects that would not have been out of place on the Serious Moonlight tour.

These songs—“The One I Wouldn’t Let In,” “We’ve Outgrown Everything We’ve Known,” and “In the Evening Glow”—are absolutely fabulous, taking the listener on an appealing journey of sounds and visions. Savage’s vocal phrasing on these songs is pure genius, whether intentionally going places I’ve not previously heard from him or not.

But truly, the entire eight-song disc is bleeding amazing, and is certainly my first ‘favourite’ of 2022, closely followed by my recent purchase of Ann Vriend’s new one! The storytelling here is that of experience and emotion rather than narrative.

The press notes site the requisite Van Zandt and Springsteen comparisons, and Yeah, sure. I find Savage more individual, and comparisons—despite my previous attempts—don’t truly work. Toss in Tom Petty, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Ian Hunter while you’re at it, but I prefer to just let his songs—the lyrics, the guitar effects, the vocal harmonies (check out the lead track, “Right Where You Found Me” for the combination of the three)—pull me close and keep me riveted.

Savage allows his songs to percolate, encouraging layers of sound to meld and stretch: one isn’t always sure when a song is reaching its natural conclusion, but each always feels ‘just right’ as they wind down. The second track, “I’m Beginning,” is initially disconcerting in that Savage approaches the vocals from a bit of a disjointed, late 70’s techno manner; once the ears adjust, it becomes a favourite, a bit of a reminder of what John Entwistle did—without sounding anything like The Quiet One– on his requisite offerings on albums from The Who—I’m thinking “905” from Who Are You and the spare part “Heaven and Hell.”

Savage’s remote rhythm section—Jason Mercer (bass and synth) and Bonz Bowering (drums)—is well-placed within this set, and is integral to the album’s sound; there are so many interesting and compelling rhythms and grooves on this album it is senseless to name each—that would truly be the track list.

Savage son Benji plays bass (what a funky bass line!) on the remarkable “We’ve Outgrown Everything We’ve Known.” (Son Zach is responsible for the striking album cover; it rather leaps out at the viewer.) The searing “Down Here,” the album’s most obviously political song, is a further highlight; Savage’s controlled wrath is apparent. The closing “Something Real” could be mistaken for a Steely Dan deep cut.

All in all, 21st Century Lo-Fi is a most satisfying and challenging recording. You’ll find a lot to appreciate.

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