Last week, New York-based musician Bay Uno released his debut album, Catalina. It was a project spun from years of songwriting, but songs that never saw the light of day except for the occasional times he would play for friends and family. Such is the life of a musician, where despite their talents there is a fear, a vulnerability of sharing oneself to the world, especially when there are so many people ready to criticize instead of appreciate the work.
Fortunately, Bay’s close friend Matt Whyte encouraged him to record the music. After a few months, a few tracks turned into a full-length album of country, folk, and 70s-inspired folk-pop music. The album in many ways sounds autobiographical, as several songs speak to family and friends and the influence of religion. This is most apparent on “St. Teresa”, where the two themes are brought together in this spiritual, folk track – not quite jubilant or choral but neither is it dark or sullen.
Even the music seems like a catalog of influences on Bay. It starts off subtly with a couple of classically arranged, folk/country-folk tunes – “Wait for Your Love Tonight” and “Sunita” – that recall the charm of Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. “Golden” is a track that resonates with the storytelling and minimalist sound of John Denver, a tune you might want to play around a fire or following a dinner with close friends and family.
On “Black Beauty” and “River”, he transforms the sounds of these greats into something stirring. The singles, particularly “River”, echo the brilliance of Matthew Houck’s project, Phosphorescent, with the ability to use different tones and textures to take the listener on an emotional roller coaster. The production on “River” is also fantastic, as different layers and instruments are added to create a euphoric feeling as the song builds. The song is the highlight of the album.
But the rest of the album is filled with little gems. The moody, humble “Don’t Come Around Here” may haunt you for days, as Bay sings with despair about the loss of a loved one. The touch of horns and the use of synths and keys add to the initial melancholic yet spiritual feel of the song.
The one song that could be considered a heel-kicking, old-fashion, country tune – think 20s and 30s country – is “Ain’t Gonna Die in This Room”. Grab your partner and do a do-si-do around the room or clap your hands to the infectious beat.
“Santiago” is the most diverse track on the album. Incorporating Latin sounds and horns and with Bay singing in Spanish during the song’s second half, it is a rousing number that would have been a great closer. Instead, Bay includes one final track, a live recording of the rapturous “Take Me from the Hills”. It’s a song about Bay’s childhood and youth spent on the shores of California. It’s a fine finale because it brings the entire album full circle – from singing about the influences of family and religion to expressing his own independence. And on Catalina, Bay may have not just shared his life and his music, but he may have found his voice and his freedom.
Bay Uno is supported by Eric Lane (keys), Andrew Livingston (upright bass), and Matt Whyte (producer). Catalina can be purchased on Bay Uno’s site, iTunes, and Amazon. You can also hear the full album on SoundCloud. Bay Uno is on a little tour, and dates are below.
3/18 – Acoustic Coffee – Johnson City, TN
3/19 – Drunken Unicorn – Atlanta, GA
3/21 – Sentient Bean – Savannah, GA
3/23 – Fair Grinds – New Orleans, LA
3/25 – Thirsty Hippo – Hattiesburg, MS
3/28 – The Cave – Chapel Hill, NC
4/10 – Radio Bean – Burlington, VT
4/11 – Toad – Boston, MA