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Thursday, April 18, 2024
The Observer

Ashworth's "Downtown" needs refinement and direction

If the Indianapolis-based band Ashworth was trying to choose between rock and acoustic guitar on its latest album, "Downtown," it seems to be suffering from a crisis of indecision."Downtown" is an album that teeters between a low-key, almost Dispatch-esque acoustic style and an angrier, rock 'n' roll sound. For a stronger band, these differences might have led to a successful, unified album. Unfortunately for Ashworth, "Downtown" is neither. While some of the album's acoustic tracks are decent, they feel incompatible with the other, rougher songs. The two styles could use some refining to mesh better on Ashworth's next release. The album is not without its merits, however. Several songs are catchy and well written. It is too bad that the rest of "Downtown" does not follow suit.Drummer Brian Meyers, bassist Cory Carleton and violinist Nathan Klatt join lead singer Adam Nevins to form the Indy-bred group. Nevins' vocals vary between that hoarse kind of whine normally characteristic of Nickelback or Daughtry, and a softer sound on tracks like "So Aware." It is true that "Downtown" suffers from stylistic overextension. Where there is violin in one track, there is a weird techno-type noise in another. Both the title track and "Fine and Sultry" feel too much like Dave Matthews Band to make sense with anything else. What makes it an interesting album from a Billboard standpoint, though, is when it toys with Christian themes. If you are vehemently opposed to the words "Christian" and "rock" being next to each other in a sentence, skip over "Downtown." At times Ashworth feels like a watered-down Mercy Me or Casting Crowns, but without either of those bands' level of craftsmanship. While it is far from being an overt worship and praise album, songs like "My Ring," which talks about marriage and prayer, are definitely not mainstream pop-rock. "This I know, I know to be true/ When I was twelve, I was praying for you" isn't exactly Britney Spears's "Gimme More." If, like George Michael, "you gotta have faith," you may like Ashworth's occasional affinity for the almighty.The album opens with "I Miss You," one of Ashworth's more rock 'n' roll-style tracks. "I wanna be with you till the day I die/ I wanna be with you all the days of my life," Nevins croons. It's too bad for Nevin and Co., though, that the song's lyrics feel tired and predictable. Sure, there is something to be said for simplicity in lyricism. But Ashworth's brand of straightforward songwriting borders on the unoriginal, in particular on "I Miss You.""Tell Me All" is an innocuous little ditty that wisely plays up Ashworth's acoustic tendencies with just a hint of electric guitar. The bridge consists of Nevins asking "love, come down," and here, the Christian themes work well. If "Downtown" kept this up with the rest of its tracks, it would be a much more solid album that it actually is.The strongest song on the album is "So Aware," which gets Nevins' vocal style and the guitar work just right. Even if lines like "She dropped into my life like a happiness bomb" are borderline ridiculous, they are more excusable once you hear the song's sweet and catchy chorus. "Refine Me" also has good rhythm and a solid melody.Ashworth is definitely a product of the Myspace generation of music artists. While the band doesn't have an actual Myspace page, its Web site functions like one. On its site, the band emphasizes its desire to stay at a grassroots level and not buy into the corporate music machine. This is an admirable aim in a time when artists can seem more prepackaged than Spam, but it's up to Ashworth to refine its strengths on whatever comes after the mediocre "Downtown."