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Tyagaraja
As Is EP
Self-Released; 2012

Depending upon the music circles in which you travel, the idea of a solo vocalist backed by a single acoustic guitar is either a symbol of purity or a really tired cliché. I personally think it’s a little bit of both, as the concept of the lone troubadour can be quite iconic (with prophetic overtones, depending upon your lyrical material). The problem is that we’ve all experienced our fair share of open-mic night participants and street-corner wannabes butchering classic folk songs (or worse, the singer foists his/her bad poetry upon us, with no respect for our ears). I believe that there exists a middle way between the two poles, and it’s this – you must have something really distinctive about you, because strumming 3 major chords and spewing poorly formed sonnets isn’t going to cut it.

And that’s what makes the music of Tyagaraja so powerful. He’s got one of those amazing “I could listen to him sing the phonebook” voices that cast a rapturous, intoxicating spell over the listener. Half of the time, I found myself wishing he’d stop strumming the guitar and just keep on singing with his clear, expressive tenor. The As Is EP makes me wish I had spent my teens and early 20’s taking voice lessons instead of affecting an emo whine or attempting a hardcore growl.

This is classy, structured folk music, and it manages to be moody and melancholy without even visiting morose territory. The guy also wears his influences easily, like a comfortable pair of broken-in jeans – James Taylor, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell all make an appearance, and these five songs manage to evoke Laurel Canyon sensibilities without appearing too arty or airy. Sure, this might be stereotypical introspective folk on the surface, but when you peel back the lyrical layers steeped in confessional themes, you get the sense that the singer is more than ready to move beyond moping in the bedroom and face the world with a freshly resolute heart.

In the end, it all comes back to the vocals, as Tyagaraja manages to evoke this curious blend of a much less douchey Josh Grobin (think operatic) and a less mysterious Antony Hegary (think cinematic). His vocal acrobatics are impressive and inspiring, not annoying and over-the-top like a B-list diva’s might be. Backed by stellar production that suitably showcases his voice in the merest hint of reverb, the As Is EP leaves a spectacular impact upon my ears – just try listening to “End of Time” or “We Will Meet Again” and not feel a few shivers run down your spine.