There’s always a bit of a risk when a member of a long-established, critically acclaimed band leaves and goes solo, but multi-talented singer-songwriter Evan Charles – former frontman for Austin, TX based ensemble Altamesa - is making it look easy, organic, rootsy and creatively fulfilling with his highly anticipated debut album, the aptly titled Between Two Worlds.
Charles’ decision to split was particularly tough because both albums he did with Altamesa (The Long Ride Home and Idol Frontier) scored 4-star reviews in the Austin Chronicle and the group was super-popular with hometown fans. Yet considering their unexpected evolution from their country/Americana trademark vibe to what he calls a “kitsch punk rock approach,” he felt like he didn’t have a choice if he wanted to stay true to his personal musical vision.
His story may inspire others in a similar creative quandary. In the fall of 2019, Charles was selected as one of six Austin-based songwriters to participate in the international touring and documentary film organization Project ATX6. A chance conversation at the Continental Club with veteran Austin musician/producer Scott Davis – whose long list of credits include Hayes Carll, Jack Ingram, Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison and Band of Heathens – led to a dynamic partnership that blossomed into an exciting but traditional country-Americana sound and a new path for Charles’ ever-expanding artistry.
While longtime loyalists and new fans alike may initially gravitate towards the infectious, rollicking movin’ on themed opening romp “Remember When” or the spirited, infectious acoustic energy of “Heavy Rains Back Home,” Charles offers even deeper thematic clues as to his intentions to optimistically look ahead on other key tracks. On the jangling, easy strumming “Time to Move On,” for instance, he insightfully sings, “Here’s the reveal/Here’s where it turns/Here’s where you see the light and there’s where you learn…”
On the twangy, front porchy, steel guitar-tinged meditation “Shattered Love and Last Goodbyes,” he reminds us that no matter how appropriate the new direction is, there’s always a tinge of melancholy in leaving the past behind. Even more interestingly, the singer offers an unusually stark piece titled “And a Redeemer,” which places an echoing old timey piano behind a short spoken word piece that begins, “Do you remember the occasion when you first felt consciousness of your own individual self?” Then in an Irish brogue, the responder says it’s as if he just stepped out of a mist.
This is just an interlude between all the engaging new tracks in Charles’ solo arsenal, but it lets us in on just how he feels now that he’s made his move. Having just recorded his first solo album, he may be Between Two Worlds at the moment, but the magical power of the album will no doubt open fresh opportunities that make him feel less in the middle and more on the side of where the future is taking him.