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On ‘Build It Up,’ Wells the Traveler takes listeners on a music voyage

Danny McGaw
Danny McGaw

Danny McGaw lists a diverse array of music influences on his band’s Facebook page: Stone Roses, Steve Earle, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Radiohead.

On “Build It Up,” the new release from his band, Wells the Traveler, you can discern traits of many of them.

McGaw, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, is a native of Manchester, England, who turned to music when an injury derailed his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. McGaw moved to the Kansas City area in 2008.

His primary medium is folk, mostly traditional American folk, but he infuses it with elements of British rock, as on the title track to the new record. “Build It Up,” recorded in Lawrence with Jason Jones, opens like a wistful lament, set to the soft strum of an acoustic guitar and light gusts of church organ. Slowly, it turns into something more declarative, musically and lyrically.

As the singer proclaims “One step at a time, we walk hand in hand,” a sonic storm begins to erupt, a dissonant mix of vocals and electric guitar that feels derived from the Stone Roses handbook. It brings the song to a dynamic close, 180 degrees from its opening.

Elsewhere, the folk tradition is left unperturbed. “Goin’ to Los Angeles” is a jaunty country-folk number buoyed by snappy guitar picking, sweet harmonies and light percussion and then accented with Dylan-like harmonica. That one is a giving of thanks from a guy who learned to “fight like a man with nothing to lose” and is now grateful for the angels who kept him out of the cemetery.

“Breckenridge,” cast in acoustic guitar and accordion, opens as a folk ballad that expands into a dramatic anthem. It also sounds influenced by David Gray, a fellow Englishman who was born not far from McGaw.

“Same Old War” is a folk hymn and a call for change from the truths that have left the singer “lost for words.” Its spirit is kindred to Lennon’s “Imagine”: “To come together seems to be the hardest / The true Holy Grail, what life is all about”; but “It’s the same old war the heart never mended / Ain’t no one here forgiving the killers and the thieves.”

One of McGaw’s strengths as a lyricist is his sincerity. He can be a romantic and a sentimentalist, but he steers well clear of maudlinism and sap. And cliche. “Can I Please Come Home,” a lament to the woman he loves and misses, opens with a plea for serenity: “I wanna live where it’s Friday every couple of days / Where the hope of tomorrow helps get you through the day.”

That one opens as a straight coffeehouse folk tune, but about halfway through its mood changes significantly, thanks to some dynamic guitar effects that swirl through and around the vocals. Like much of the music on “Build It Up,” it sounds as familiar as it does fresh, rooted in different styles and cultures.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

SATURDAY

Wells the Traveler performs at 10:30 p.m. Saturday in the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. The show is part of the three-stage Apocalypse Meow benefit. Admission is $10. The album “Build It Up” is available for download at wellsthetraveler.com.

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