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Tom Savage's Never Shed No Tears wins the prize as the surprise of the year thus far. First time through, I shrugged. Second time, I heard some things I liked. Third time, more. I'm on the tenth or eleventh listen now and it's at the top of my preferred listening stack. How it got there is a mystery. It's not the style, because I haven't quite figured out what it is yet. It doesn't seem like anything new, but with a voice somewhere between Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Young and a writing style which picks influences by the line instead of the song, Savage somehow put together one hell of an album without allowing himself to be pigeonholed. Folk? Yes. Rock? Yes. Folk rock? Yes. Good? Yes. Damn good? Yes, yes and yes. Favored tracks at this moment (and they change with each hearing) are Beneath the Rocks with its Knopfler-esque vocals and guitar break (great twang and way too short), The State We're In which has slight touches of 70s Brit-rockers Home and a very slight nod toward Pink Floyd on The Wall with screaming folk harmonica on the break. Hang Your Head and Cry could very well be what Phil Ochs might be doing if he'd not passed on, its theme the simple shame that some politicians bring to an otherwise proud nation. Savage even stretches himself toward jazz with Wrong Side of Town, the guitar sounding as if it could have been taken from an early Steely Dan album.

Throughout the album, I hear ghosts of John Campbell, Knopfler, Springsteen, Steve Young and shades of newer artists who, while not well known, have their moments of musical greatness. They are the ghosts in my own head, though, for it becomes more obvious with each listen that Savage writes and performs what he has to, not what he hears. Such is of what the good ones are made.

A big huzzah to Geoff Chown for hearing what Savage had to offer, to the various musicians who added their little bits which made the whole as good as it is, and to Tom Savage himself who has found his voice, and I am not referring to that which emanates from his throat. What a voice it is. - Frank Gutch Jr., Folk and Acoustic music Exchange