Captain Highside – In Southern Cities

 Captain Highside – In Southern Cities

Captain Highside – In Southern Cities – EP Review

I mean…if I was judging this record from the first impression you’ll get on the way in the door, I’d readily tell ya that you’re all about to be in-store for the best of Captain Highside that I’ve personally heard to-date.  “Sway” is a fantastic song without a doubt, and what a remarkable performance on the mic from the main man in charge!  Not only does he sing this track with incredibly bone, rich, and robust tones, but you’ll probably feel like CH has really tapped into something memorable in terms of the hooks.  If you’ve read my reviews on his past material, then you know that’s an area that I felt like he had the opportunity to evolve and grow with his music, and “Sway” proves he can conquer that mountain anytime he chooses to.  I think he’s gotta be a bit careful to be mindful of that aspect still – like, after having a good listen to this entire lineup of four tracks on In Southern Cities, I can wholeheartedly tell ya that “Sway” presents the most accessibility & single-worthy potential.  Memorable hooks and having a chorus that people could connect with were clearly a priority in the songwriting here, and that leads the good Captain to a complete victory in this opening track…but from this point forward on the EP, you’ll also notice the material reverting back to the methods he’s tried & tested already as it plays on.  Which ultimately makes “Sway” even more of a stand out, because the competition isn’t really there, know what I mean?  The quality of the songs are still great when we’re talking about his production and/or performances, but with each cut that In Southern Cities provides, the accessibility gets dialed back a bit.  “Sway” is a highlight example of how you can create an incredible hook with a single word when you approach it the right way…the ingredients here are minimal, yes, but the results are maximized, 100%.

He’s so “less than sure” about this second cut, that it comes without capital letters in its title!  Captain Highside is getting some really magnificent tones out of himself when he’s singing his way through this material.  I’ve always had a great experience listening to his music, but as I listened to this second track, I felt like it was impossible not to acknowledge that the man has leveled UP on this latest record.  To me, that’s the main draw here…I was “less than sure” about whether or not the song itself had the hooks required to bring people back to listen, but it’s close enough, and the performance he puts in absolutely makes up for any deficiencies in that regard.  What made “less than sure” a stranger experience for me, is that Captain’s got some kind of like…hmm, you know, I don’t really know how to describe the sound I’m hearing other than to give it to ya as plain as I can – he’s got a sound set in the distant background of this song that sounded like my dishwasher had just finished its cycle.  Which was heckin’ confusing because I didn’t actually run it this morning, so I was trying to figure out what was going on until I realized it was coming straight from the song.  What was even more bizarre, was that I really don’t mind the inclusion…it just stands out as a little strange is all.  He’s somewhere in the realm of Frank Ocean here on “less than sure,” with a bit of Tony Rich and Tracy Chapman to go along with that throughout the rest of the songs in this lineup.  CH is mesmerizing, enchanting, and truly outstanding in the way that he sings “less than sure” – and credit where credit is due, I think he’s practically able to break the rules of traditional songwriting because he really is THAT great to listen to on a vocal level.  “less than sure” still has decent enough hooks to bring the people back for another listen…they might not be as memorable as something like “Sway” had right beforehand, but they’re not too far off.  He continually makes up the difference by being so captivating in the way he performs…as in, let me be crystal clear in case you’re not getting it – this man can SING.

“Hypnotize” works well…I probably like the performance a bit more than the song itself, but we’re not talking about anything that’s too far away from the mark at all.  That’s the thing about different sets of speakers, different ears, and different opinions…they’ll all tell ya something different!  To me, I’d say that “Hypnotize” is a bit heavy on the low-end in comparison to the rest…and when things are at their most involved, it’s not really something we notice too much even though it’s still the case, but in those moments where things are more spare, like at the start of the song, it’s probably a bit invasive overall.  I’d say that the first two tracks on this EP show ya the most balance at the end of the day, whether it’s the writing or the sound, and the latter two tracks still reveal a few spots where CH has the opportunity to evolve his craft even further.  That spot around the 2:45 mark though?  That’s pure gold right there is what that is.  I could make a really solid argument that it’s actually the biggest hook you’ll hear in this particular song, and that bringing that moment back a couple more times would have been to the benefit of this tune.  To me, I listen to Captain Highside’s tunes and think that he’s gotta remain conscious of the fact that a great vocal performance isn’t always going to directly equate to a great tune.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like what I hear, and as I’ll tell ya in the conclusion of this review, I’d still come back to listen…but I acknowledge that I’m not the average everyday listener either.  Right now, as he’s got his songs designed, CH is very much in the musician’s musician type of category.  Like, we hear the skills and talent…there’s absolutely no doubt about any of that…and we can hear the potential for more accessibility is there too, because he’s proven that on “Sway,” and even on “less than sure” to a lesser extent.  The Captain has got some decisions to make in terms of what he wants to come across the most in the music he’s making, which is natural; he might be a decade-plus into his career as an artist at this point, but that’s still pretty early in the grand scheme of things.  He’s got the chops…he’s refined things even more from what I remember to hearing him on this EP…and now it’s just about finding & defining the strengths of the material – does he want us to remember him as a performer, or the songs he makes overall?  I really dig what I hear from the guy on a track like “Hypnotize,” but he does make it tougher to remember the song for its merits, as opposed to how easy it is to remember how well he performed it.

“Up, on, in, out, back, down, away again” definitely wins the prize for titular uniqueness.  Quality of the cut is good once again…I mean, let’s be real – Captain Highside is great at what he does and he seems to have a solid grip on the kind of music he wants to create.  Ultimately, I do feel like his biggest challenges still revolve around that ‘reason to return’ when it comes to the hooks of a song…I think even he’d agree that his hooks are anti-typical.  Whereas most listeners would expect them to be found in something they could sing along with in a chorus & whatnot, the good Captain goes the other direction, and makes his performances, the mood, and the vibe become the real hooks we hear.  Don’t get me wrong – on a personal level, I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever…I’d absolutely still listen to Captain Highside and I would come back to listen again, because I’m not the kind of listener that needs an easy hook to identify to keep me coming back.  That being said, I’m not everyone, and it’s something that CH should probably stay conscious of – all the ingredients are great in the material, he’s just searching for the main standout elements of his songs that wow people and keeps the masses coming back to listen.  Because he’s got that locked down when it comes to the way he sings, that much I’m convinced of.  I’d be willing to bet that Captain Highside would be a true knockout to see live, and there’s a real good chance that his music would create an even stronger connection with the listeners from the stage.  As it stands…as hard as it might be to say or admit, I’m not sure I’m gonna remember “Up, on, in, out, back, down, away again” in a couple months down the road, but I will certainly remember Captain Highside; I suppose that’s what I’ve been getting at.  I like the jazzy keys in this final track, and I’ve definitely had no problem at all spinning this song, or any of these songs on repeat over this past week…but it still feels like there’s a whole other level for Captain Highside to break through to…and when he does, he’ll know.  We all will to be truthful – I think he’s got greatness on display already and even more within him.  He’s on the right path with this EP, but I’ve gotta be that guy to challenge him and say he’s still got more to give, that’s who I am.  I hear the opening two tracks on this record, and I know he’s well on his way to that next level he’s looking for…it’s only a matter of time, and I’m looking forward to that next chapter.

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