I’m not entirely sure what I expected when sitting down to listen to Dallas singer-songwriter Erik Neff’s debut release “At The End of The Day,” but I got far more than I ever could have imagined.
Combining elements of modern country, blues, pop-rock with an eminently soulful voice, Neff creates music that is at once ambient and passionate. It’s an odd combination, but the sound is all his own, and demonstrates a truly diverse range of musical and vocal styles.
The opening track “Don’t Fall” is an adult-contemporary style ballad that combines the aforementioned soulful vocals, reminiscent at times of John Mayer, with a fervent and heartfelt guitar solo. It’s the kind of song I expect should pique the interest of radio stations across the country.
“Rainbow” is an entirely different type of tune, far more pop-rock in nature with a catchy bridge, catchy guitar riffs and perfectly matched bass line. Just two songs in and it’s quite obvious that the musicianship is outstanding across the board.
The CD’s third tune is “Rosa Lee,” bluesy, soulful and featuring an organ that takes this ballad to the next level.
“She Don’t Know” turns the album on it’s head, pulling out a slide guitar and delving into a bluesy tune that would feature well on most any modern country playlist. The following track, “Victory” stays with the modern country theme but picks up the beat a bit from the mostly restrained songs thus far.
The sixth song on “At The End of The Day” is another country-themed ballad called “Valentine,” which again shows Neff’s smooth vocals and soothing melodies.
A couple slower ballad-style songs, “Long Night” and “So Contagious” precede the most ‘country’ sounding tune on the album — ”Light On” — which allows Neff’s quite obvious country roots to shine in a big way.
The closing track is a very unique take on the popular Tears for Fears hit “Shout,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985. Here, Neff produces a song that is musically at odds with the angst and protest of Roland Orzabal and Ian Stanley’s lyrics. It’s an interesting — and bold — choice of cover for his debut album, given that Neff already has a solid cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” in his repertoire.
Still, it works, and largely so because Neff doesn’t seem to shy away from lyrics that are seemingly at odds with Neff’s own songwriting. Instead, he seems to turn what was once a Cold War-era protest song borne out of fear and frustration into a something else entirely. Starting slow, the instrumentation gradually picks up throughout the tune, which layers in electronic sounds in the middle (and, how could you not… it’s a Tears for Fears song?) and builds in intensity throughout, finally ending the song sounding far more like Tears for Fears than I thought it would.
Grammy-winning producer Ryan Greene, whose clients include a range of musically diverse artists including Megadeth, Jay Z and Cheap Trick joined Neff in the studio along with producer Sean Neff (Erik’s brother), who has worked with the likes of Dolly Parton, Rascal Flatts and Bon Jovi.
The diversity of musical styles that collaborated to create “At The End of The Day” are quite apparent throughout… so much so that it’s difficult to classify what genre Neff and this album fit into. Too light to be considered modern rock, too bluesy to be country, Neff’s blending of styles and tastes is one of a kind, and the resulting CD is well worth a listen.