CD Review: Sean Hanley, “Fall of This Town”

Sean Hanley "Fall of This Town", 2013
Sean Hanley, “Fall of This Town”, 2013

Acoustic guitarist Sean Hanley has been playing around Palm Beach County since 2005, mostly in Lake Worth and his current hometown of Boynton Beach. Until recently, his repertoire had been heavy on covers from groups such as The Beatles. But since the release in late 2013 of his first CD, “Fall of this Town”, Sean has managed to slip in more than a few of its superb original tracks into his set-lists.

The debt Sean’s music owes to the Fab Four is probably easiest to hear on the track “Shine”, which seems to marry the backing tracks of Revolver to the shimmering harmonies of Abbey Road. But the more obvious influence on this album is that of another Beatlesque artist:  Crowded House. The Finn brothers’ stamp is apparent on the very first song, the standout track “Don’t Blame Me”. The New Zealand group’s influence can also be heard on tracks such as “Lost In A Moment” , but none more so than “Promise You Nothing”, with its jangly acoustic guitars and chiming harmonies.

Sean’s recording efforts were aided by a stellar cast of local musicians. Mike Vullo of the Funkabilly Playboys plays guitar and drums on the track “One More Hour of Daylight”, a rockabilly track reminiscent of the  “Midnight Special” tv theme.  Former Dillingers’ frontman Rick Rossano not only adds guitar arpeggios to the title track but also does bass, drums and harmonies for the track.  The standout guitarist is also listed as co-producer for this album.  And contributing to the outstanding vocals are some standout singer/songwriters in their own right: Shauna Sweeney and Summer Blanket frontman Keith Michaud. Marc Ward, owner of Elegbaland Studio where this album was recorded, works both sides of the console here. In addition to recording, mixing, mastering and producing, Marc also plays a number of instruments for the album, particularly keyboards such as the mellotron that lend such a Beatlesque feel to so many of the tracks.

In addition to his Beatle and Crowded House homages, Sean dabbles in some interesting genre combinations. “Long Lonesome Life” is essentially a folk ballad with a considerable amount of country overtones. “Asleep at the Wheel” is also a folk ballad, but it cleverly switches from a Dylanesque waltz to an introspective rock ballad feel for its bridge.

Sean’s songwriting holds up throughout the album and all of its genres. “Lying Little Man” is a nice moderately-uptempo country groove,  whereas “When My Bottle Runs Dry” sounds like an early rock’n’roll waltz. The acoustic-guitar ballad “To Be You” features vocal interplay between Sean and singer-songwriter Catlin Reed reminiscent of that between John Mayer and Taylor Swift in “Half of My Heart”. And though the hidden-track idea has probably been done to death, the uncredited ukelele ditty that follows “From Yesterday” is a better emulation of “Her Majesty” than most artists pull off.

Any quibbles with this album fall on the recording side. The overall EQ could have used more tweaking during the mastering process, and the drums sound a bit muddy throughout. But this does not detract from the strength of the songwriting or the adept instrumental performances. And the sheer amount of vocal work done for this album makes it a standout amongst local recordings. Sean Hanley has a lot to be proud of in his debut effort.