Million Different Shades
"Timeless" is a word used too often when describing music, yet it's the word that comes to mind again and again when listening to A MILLION DIFFERENT SHADES, the debut album from 25 year-old singer/songwriter Marshall Drew. The independent release is refreshingly devoid of the trends and gimmicks flooding the airwaves; it is instead shot through with enduring themes and emotions that have always been vital to the human experience. It is an album that would have sounded just as vibrant had it been released 30 years ago, and will no doubt sound just as relevant 30 years from now. Marshall Drew was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a town whose contributions to blues music many decades ago sealed it's musical legacy. DREW became interested in music at a young age, learning his first guitar chords at age 5 and writing his first song at 8. "I guess I was a fairly normal kid," DREW says. "The only thing that set me apart was that I really loved music. I'd invite my friends over to play and just put on one of my dad's old Beatles albums! To me, that was a good time, but they were probably bored out of their minds..." DREW'S dedication to music eventually paid off, and he became a renowned young guitarist around his hometown, playing with several local bands throughout his teens and early twenties. He logged countless miles playing blues music in bars and festivals around the Mississippi Delta. His musical travels led him to exploring the highest echelons of popular songwriting, and it's these influences that most clearly inform the songs on A MILLION DIFFERENT SHADES. "I'm interested in serious songwriters," DREW says. "Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young - these are the guys that are on my mind the most. I don't go around looking for the next big thing. I like the classics." Musically, DREW'S songs are tightly composed and instantly appealing, with strong melodies and memorable choruses. DREW takes to heart an attitude that he feels many of his peers have discounted - that a good hook is nothing to fear. "With a lot of young singer-songwriters these days, it's like they equate catchiness with disposability," DREW says. "But 'Like a Rolling Stone' is as catchy as anything, and it's certainly no less of an artistic achievement for it. I've always loved bands that put a big emphasis on hooks, like The Beatles and Big Star." Much like those of his heroes when they were young, DREW'S lyrics seem wise beyond their author's years. Most of them seem to survey the damage after the collapse of a relationship, and DREW imbues them with a tangible sense of pathos, perceptiveness and wry wit that begs comparison to the classic breakup songs of Dylan himself. Listen, for instance, to "In the End", where he sings, 'I still believe that a heart can always be earned,' before demolishing the sentiment with 'And that only goes to show how little I've learned.' Then there's the title track. "A Million Different Shades" (the song) is devastatingly fatalistic. With the sparsest of accompaniment, DREW sings with a cold detachment that is betrayed only by the scars laid bare in the lyrics. 'You say I wasn't honest with you, and yeah I guess that's plain to see,' he sings. 'But for every lie I told to you, I told a hundred more to me.' The song ends with a particularly hard blow: 'Now the days are endless, and the nights are twice that long/So we should have plenty of time to figure out where we went wrong.' But it's not all heartbreak and calamity. "Before the Storm Comes Down" is as potent an example of youthful yearning and aspiration as anything off 'Born to Run.' It's a song for anyone who's ever felt trapped but who holds on to hope without guarantees. 'I'm so tired of just hanging on/Y'know it makes you fierce, but it don't make you strong,' DREW sings, perfectly encapsulating the essence of a dead-end existence. But with a spirited 'Come on, baby!' he leaps into the chorus, lifting the song into one of optimism and possibility. Likewise, "I Believe In You" is a wonderful love song, told from the perspective of one who has finally embraced devotion without barriers: 'If you hold me close I won't let go/I'm finally seeing further than my nose/The road is hard and far to go/And I see no reason to be alone.' It's these themes that ultimately define Marshall Drew'S music - themes that are as old as time but, when in the hands of the right songwriter, are made new again. Here we find something that becomes increasingly rare in this day and age - an artist whose work has the potential to endure. "That's the thing about writing a song," DREW says. "It's not something that's over with once you finish it. As long as people keep listening, a song can go on forever." Andy Byatt Nashville, TN June, 2009.