Michigan native Jeremy Quentin has been recording folksy, mostly acoustic Americana under the Small Houses banner since his 2010 début Our Dusking Sound. His latest release, Exactly Where You Wanted To Be, is more of a mini-album than anything else: eight songs, a couple of which are little more than instrumental links between the meatier offerings. But to describe any of these tracks as meaty might be a bit misleading. Quentin’s brand of songwriting doesn’t perform any tricks. There is no musical sleight of hand. There are no gimmicks. Nothing explodes from the speakers like a bad advertisement pleading for an instantaneous and thoughtless response. The essence of these songs is their openness and it is this alone that demands attention – a kind of honesty that appears to assume a prearranged contract between artist and listener, a tacit agreement that you will see the album through to its conclusion. It’s an old-fashioned notion, I suppose, and a brave one in today’s climate of lazy gratification.
In this case, attentive listening is rewarded. The songs, though not immediate, combine to produce a satisfying whole, almost a suite or song cycle: the lyrics are interlinked to a conceptual degree and the themes (home, early love, the importance of place) hark back to earlier albums. One of the most rewarding preoccupations is the tension between ‘leaving’ (or travelling) and ‘keeping’ (or belonging), wonderfully embodied in the bittersweet ‘Last Day Of Summer’ and closer ‘Homes And Photographs’, in which the narrator promises to ‘give you something you can keep like a penny laid on a railway’: travel and belonging rolled into one succinct image.
Earlier Small Houses records have been musically less stark than this, with a more worked-on sound: Our Dusking Sound, for example, was aided by sweet female backing vocals, subtle strings and full band arrangements. Exactly Where You Wanted To Be has to live or die by its songwriting alone, and for the most part, it is successful on this front, rescued from busker-fodder by the lyrical concerns and Quentin’s voice, which is yearning and optimistic. At times it sounds like a small-town Ryan Adams, and that’s no bad thing. At others, such as ‘Sarah’s Song’, the guitar arrangements are reminiscent of New Morning-era Dylan, but less boisterous. And on ‘I Saw Santa Fe’ a welcome piano accompaniment breaks the guitar monopoly without sacrificing coherence.
Exactly Where You Wanted To Be is an ultimately pleasing paradox of an album: concise yet unhurried, simple yet demanding. While it certainly works as a complete piece, it nonetheless leaves room for the intriguing thought that there might be a whole other side (or sides) to Small Houses.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Exactly Where You Wanted To Be is released on Yer Bird Records on 26 February 2013.
Pre-Order the album via Bandcamp.
US Tour Dates
Feb. 23 – Studio 34 – Philadelphia, PA (CD release show)
Feb. 24 – Krankie’s – Winston-Salem, NC
Feb. 26 – Pinhook – Durham, NC
Feb. 27 – Satellite Bar – Wilmington, NC
Feb. 28 – The Radio Room – Greenville, SC
Mar. 1 – TBA – Nashville, TN
Mar. 2 – Blue Plate Special – Knoxville, TN (early radio show)
Mar. 2 – The Cottage – Atlanta, GA
Mar. 4 – Flicker Theater – Athens, GA
Mar. 6 – The Burro Bar – Jacksonville, FL
Mar. 7 – TBA – Orlando, FL
Mar. 8 – A&M Theater – Panama City, FL
Mar. 10 – Super Happy Funland (SXSW Overflow Fest) – Houston, TX
Mar. 11 – 17 – SXSW – Austin, TX (details soon…)
Mar. 19 – The Deli – Norman, OK
Mar. 20 – Vertical Violet – Witchita, KS
Mar. 21 – Seedco – Lawrence, KS
Mar. 22 – O’Leavers – Omaha, NE
Mar. 23 – The Mill – Iowa City, IA
Mar. 24 – The Rozz-Tox – Rock Island, IL
Mar. 25 – TBA- Minneapolis, MN
Mar. 26 – TBA – Eau Claire, WI
Mar. 27 – Show with Shitty Barn – Spring Green, WI
Mar. 28 – The Red Barn – Peoria, IL
Mar. 29 – TBA – Chicago, IL (w. Sean Hoots)
Mar. 30 – The DAAC – Grand Rapids, MI (w. Sean Hoots)
Mar. 31 – Harriet Brown House – Lansing, MI (w. Sean Hoots)
Apr. 3 – The Bug Jar – Rochester, NY (w. Sean Hoots)
Apr. 4 – The Monkey House – Burlington, VT (w. Sean Hoots)
Apr. 5 – TBA – Portland, ME (w. Sean Hoots)
Apr. 6 – Gallery 263 – Boston, MA (w. Sean Hoots)
Apr. 8 – Union Hall – New York City, NY (w. Sean Hoots)