ANDREW NEIL – Interview & Album Review: “Alien”

The cool album artwork was designed by Daniel Benayun

Though many singer-songwriters tend to draw inspiration from their own life experiences, few I’ve come across are quite as thoughtful, candid and personal as Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (born Andrew Neil Maternick). Considered an outsider music artist in a similar vein to the late Daniel Johnston, Andrew writes from his heart and soul. The 34-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his faith, strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled him to flourish as an artist.

I’ve featured Andrew twice on this blog, first in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak, then again in June 2021 when I reviewed his fourth album Sunny Side (you can read those reviews by clicking on the Related links at the end of this post). I wrote extensively about his life experiences in those reviews, but will touch on a few significant points to provide a bit of context.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, he suffered a life-altering event in 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that he needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray later uploaded to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.)

Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. He followed up a year later with his second album Merry Go Round, then quickly went back to work in early 2019 to record his third album Freak. Sadly, as he was wrapping up the recording he was hit with yet another health crises when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.

His cancer thankfully in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, featuring 10 optimistic tracks with a mellower, more lo-fi folk sound. Ever the creative, hard-working artist, Andrew’s now returns with his fifth album Alien, which dropped September 15th. Similar to Sunny Side, the songs on Alien were performed with just Andrew’s vocals and acoustic guitar, giving them a lo-fi folk sensibility. But the subject matter is a bit darker, touching on such issues as mental health, loneliness, suicide, alcoholism and relationships.

In order to get a bit more insight into his inspiration for writing Alien, I asked Andrew a few questions, to which he graciously responded.

EML: Thank you, Andrew, for agreeing to speak with me about your latest album Alien. You’ve experienced more than your fair share of trauma and difficult challenges in your life, and also suffer from depression, which you’ve spoken about pretty openly on social media. Like many songwriters, you draw from your own experiences when writing your lyrics, and as was the case with your previous albums, the songs on Alien address such topics as mental health and emotional well-being, addiction, suicide, loneliness and faith. Does writing and recording songs help bring you a little peace of mind?

Andrew: Yes, writing songs does bring me a little peace of mind. Some songs help me process my grief and sorrow. When I write it is like the hand of my heart reaching out to the world for help, love and understanding; almost always the world reaches back and that feels good. I also hope that my music will help others to deal with their own issues, depression, loneliness. If you think about it, it’s almost like a continuous circle of emotions. You write to help yourself, which directly or indirectly helps others and they in turn help you back with positive feedback. They view my song within their own life experiences and relate in their own way. We all learn from this exchange of melody and lyrics and emotions. Knowing this gives me peace of mind.

EML: The title track “Alien” reminds me a bit of “Freak” in that it seems to speak to embracing one’s identity, warts and all, rather than being ashamed of it. Is that the point you’re trying to make on this song?

Andrew: The point of “Alien” is the truth behind my belief in a universal family. We may come from other places, have different religions, have different governments, eat different food, but at the end of the day I firmly believe we all have hearts with similar desires. These hearts feel and desire love and it’s this desire that illustrates we truly are a family. So, when we see someone different, someone who fits the mold of an alien we should reach out to them with love and understanding.

EML: Two songs in particular, “I Need a Reason” and “Don’t Tell the Doctor”, are pretty heavy and dark, dealing with thoughts of suicide. Your dad told me that “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired by a comment a woman whispered to you during a group therapy session – “Don’t tell the Doctor, but I’m in love with suicide”. What prompted you to write about that experience?

Andrew: I have spent a fair share of time in mental hospitals and have met many interesting characters. During one of my first stays at Virginia Baptist Memorial Hospital I met a young lady named Holly. It is true that we had a group session in which we were supposed to talk about what we love. Her answer was “Suicide”. I, like many in the group, could relate and it’s a moment of genuineness I will never forget. I wonder where Holly is these days, and she will always have a place in my heart.

EML: Not being a songwriter nor musician, I’m always impressed by people who can write compelling lyrics and compose interesting or catchy melodies. Do you generally write your lyrics first, then set them to music, or do you first come up with a melody or guitar riff, then write words to fit?

Andrew: When writing songs, I usually start with strumming some chords on the guitar. Then I hum a tune that fits and then I transform that tune into words. Sometimes I feel as though my fingers are guided on the fretboard. I don’t really know any standard chords or notes or even musical keys, but my fingers seem to find the right sound and melody. I really think melody is important. Melody is something I think is missing from many songs written today. There are lots of “beats” but not really much melody in many contemporary songs.

Once I have a melody, I try to determine what the melody is telling me or saying. The words/lyrics are by far the hardest part of the process. The lyrics are really my notes in a weird way. I write the lyrics so that the melody wraps around them. Sometimes I’ve come up with lyrics when the guitar is not in my hands. I might have a dream or a special feeling and the lyrics just pop into my head. “Mongolia” was a good example of this. In that case the lyrics helped to dictate the melody. I tend to write 2 to 3 songs a month.

EML: From what I can tell, the only sounds we hear on these songs are your voice and acoustic guitar, is that correct?

Andrew: Yes, it was certainly stripped down. Just me and my nylon string ovation guitar. I do not recall any keyboard dubs on the Alien album tracks. We decided to keep it simple and maintain a lo-fi sound. We also wanted to help the subtleties of my guitar playing, which is different than many guitarists, stand out. Over the years, I have come up with my own style of playing and make up my own chord shapes. It’s a very percussive style. My dad says it reminds him of Richie Havens in some ways. I am not really encumbered by the rules, scales, etc. of the instrument. I really think this gives me a certain amount of freedom in writing songs that many songwriters don’t have. They tend to stick to the conformity of the instrument.

EML: Who are some living artists or musicians whose work inspires you, or that you would like to collaborate with if possible?

Andrew: My inspirations are many. The living artists who come to mind are Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Richard Thompson, Sanjay Mishra, and Lady Gaga to name a few. I’ve also been listening a lot to Country artists John Anderson and Raelyn Nelson. It would be cool to collab with them, but I realize that is pie in the sky kind of stuff. More realistically, as far as collaboration, I would love to work with and perhaps co-write songs with some rising artists in different genres. One genre in particular I am developing an interest in is Alt-Country, which is a mix of Country, Garage Rock, Blues and Alternative. One up and coming Alt-country artist I would love to co-write a song with is Raelyn Nelson. As you know I was scheduled to open for her Band on 19 August of this year in Hershey PA, but it was cancelled due to an illness in her band. It will be rescheduled hopefully in November. After her manager notified me that they wanted me to open for them, I started listening to the Raelyn Nelson Band music. That listening experience inspired me to write a few Alt-County songs for the show. I would love to release an alt-country album after Alien. This would definitely be a different direction, but I think it’s also a way to reach more people with my music.

Prior to the inspiration by the Raelyn Nelson Band, I had begun to dabble in writing more country-like songs. For instance, I think the songs “Gambin Man” and “Kinda Turns me On”, on my Sunny Side Album have an alt-country feel to them. I think I am going to travel in that direction for the time being. Also, I am on this list on Ranker (Best Outsider Music Artist list). Many of the artists that are listed have passed on now. I really wish I could have worked with Daniel Johnston. But there are a few younger living artists on the list like John Revitte who is an exceptional lyricist, that I would love to collab with. R. Stevie Moore, and Iggy Pop are also on the list, but are really up there in age and I’m not sure if they are still active in music.

EML: Anything else you’d like to say about Alien or yourself that I’ve neglected to ask?

Andrew: No storm lasts forever. Life is good and people are beautiful. I appreciate you taking the time to review my music and get my story out there into this world. Music makes a difference in this jello world. Thanks again and peace out.

Now, let’s get to the album, which opens with the title track “Alien“. As Andrew stated, the song speaks of reaching out to people who are different from us with love and understanding, as we’d hope they’d do for us: “Far from ordinary, makes life kind of scary. I’d have it no other way. We come in peace. Don’t shoot please. It’s alright alien.” On the melancholy “I Need a Reason“, he questions the value of his very existence: “Like a bug stuck in a spider’s web, the more I struggle, the more I’m dead. I am blue, and blue I remain. Will I get conquered by my pain? I need a reason baby, a reason to be here. I need a reason baby, to make it through the year. I need a reason baby, before I disappear.

While “Mongolia” comes across as a pleasing folk tune, its lyrics are packed with meaning and emotional conflict. It starts off with Andrew listing a few of his psychoses: “I know angels on a first-name basis. And I can’t stare at the walls too long, or else I’ll see faces.” He then describes his wanting to escape to an exotic place in hopes of overcoming some of his shortcomings: “I want to go to Mongolia, Perhaps there I’ll get holier. Holier than the Judas that I am. Holier like Mary’s little lamb.” Continuing on, he acknowledges that he’s too old to be treated like a child, yet still needs emotional support and comfort from his mother: “Mommy please don’t spank me. I’m way, way too old. And I need a blankie, cause this world is so cold. So I wanna go to Mongolia.” Here’s a wonderful live performance of Andrew singing the song in 2021.

As described earlier, “Don’t Tell the Doctor” was inspired from an experience Andrew had in one of his group therapy sessions back in 2009, in which the discussion leader asked them to talk about what they loved. A woman in the group leaned over to Andrew and whispered “Don’t tell the doctor, but I’m in love with suicide“. The song has a languid, rather somber melody, with some really fine guitar noodling. Andrew’s melancholy vocals sing of feelings of hopelessness: “Sometimes I feel like there’s only one way out. That’s when you’ll find me hanging from a cloud. And sometimes I feel like there’s nowhere left to run. I keep my promises, I won’t use a gun.” That line, combined with the almost grungy feel of Andrew’s acoustic guitar, makes me think of Nirvana.

Fingers Crossed” seems to touch on people’s superficiality and phoniness, and making empty promises but not following through: “Ring, ring, ring, I ignore the call. So leave a message and I’ll call you back. Fingers crossed, yeah we all know that.” On “My Best Friend is Not Whiskey“, Andrew speaks to how alcohol does not solve our problems or make us feel better: “Where’s my fairy tale ending? What the fuck happened to me? Every day I keep pretending that I’m not in misery. Every day I keep pretending my best friend is not whiskey. It’s a thirsty world.” And on the allegorical “The Beat Goes On“, he describes a series of dreams in which he meets an Aztec priestess, has Jesus in a high school class, and is a Samurai warrior addicted to death and glory who ultimately commits hara kiri.

Remember to Forget” is a sweet song about being supportive and loving to a friend in need: “When you’re cold, I’ll be your sweater. When you’re sad, I’ll make you smile. We’re all in this together, mile after mile. When you need a hug, I’ll be your teddy. Yes, I’ll be your happy thought. Remember, remember to forget, the vampire that bit. Remember, remember to forget all of the bullshit.” And of course, it’s always wonderful getting that support in return: “When it rains, you’re my umbrella. When I cry, you dry my tears. We’re all in this together. You put meaning in my years.

The album closes with the charming “Black Sheep“, which speaks to how just because someone may be quirky and different, they still have qualities worth loving: “One day, we all kick the can. So girl, won’t you hold my hand. I promise that I am no creep. Yeah, I’m just a black sheep.” Andrew’s percussive style of guitar playing is strongly evident in his heavily-strummed acoustic notes. It’s an upbeat ending that keeps the album from being too overwhelmingly bleak. All in all, Alien is a marvelous little album, and Andrew’s stripped-down acoustic treatment really allows his endearing, heartfelt vocals and relatable poetic lyrics to shine.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Sunny Side”

Virginia-based singer-songwriter Andrew Neil (full name Andrew Neil Maternick) is one of the more unique artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog. I first wrote about him in November 2019, when I reviewed his third album Freak (which you can read here). Andrew is considered an “outsider” music artist similar to the late Daniel Johnston, and in fact, ranks as the #1 Best Outsider Artist on Ranker, just above Johnston (click this link to see the full list). The now 33-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

I wrote extensively about his experiences in my previous review, but will summarize here to provide a bit of context. After growing up as a fairly typical kid and high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

He was subsequently released and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d written since his 2009 accident. Andrew writes his honest, deeply personal songs entirely by ear, first creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar, then recorded songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would later upload to a computer. Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville. (He now lives independently.) Upon his release, he produced his first album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 melancholy yet optimistic songs he hoped might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them.

In 2018, Andrew recorded his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. He entered the studio again in 2019 to record what would become his third album Freak, and as he was wrapping up the recording he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected. The album, an ambitious work featuring 14 tracks addressing topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity, was released that October to widespread acclaim.

His cancer thankfully now in remission, Andrew began recording songs during the Covid lockdown, this time with only his own quirky, endearing vocals and vintage nylon string Ovation acoustic guitar, accompanied on some tracks by subtle keyboard overdubs. The songs came together as his fourth album Sunny Side, which is being released digitally on June 15th via Tree Heart Records. The album will become available on CD on June 30th, along with a limited press vinyl version scheduled for release in October. The songs have a mellower and more lo-fi folk sound than the ones on Freak. About Sunny Side, Andrew states “I believe the album will appeal to people who really dig the lo-fi, outsider vibe. I hope my music will be recognized as something genuine; something that people can relate to and let them know they are not alone in this jello world.” The imaginative artwork for the album cover was created by Boston artist Daniel Benayun.

The album kicks off with “Gamblin’ Man“, a pleasing folk tune with an allegorical story about a reckless soul who always lives life on the edge. Andrew’s knack for writing seemingly simple yet profound lyrics with a powerful message is exemplified in these verses: “Out in the desert sun I made friends with a scorpion. We talked about how we feel, then I said shuffle up and deal. We played till the sun went down, full moon was wearin’ a crown. I cheated, gave myself some kings. Then I felt how a scorpion stings.”

On the optimistic title track “Sunny Side“, he advises us to not wallow in our problems, but instead try and find something good in every situation: “I buy flowers. She asked what for. Just in case the undertaker comes knockin’ on my door, cause tomorrow’s no guarantee. Let’s take our sorrow, and drown it in the sea. So keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life./ This life is a gift. It makes me high, high, high like a cliff.” He continues along a similar vein with the grunge-tinged “Lemonade“, urging us to make lemonade out of those lemons life sometimes throws our way: “Make lemonade. Realize that we got it made. Make lemonade. Don’t be afraid. Even in hell, be thankful for shade./ Live with love, the world is ours.”

Andrew’s strong sense of spirituality, love and faith in humanity is expressed on several tracks. On “One Big Family“, he sings of how, despite our differences, we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect: “We are one big family. And you have a brother, a brother in me. Tough times do not last. Tough people do. And I feel so much tougher when I’m loved by you. And no one’s perfect yet; we all have flaws. But we still deserve gifts from Santa Claus.” He uses “Heaven” as a metaphor for love and empathy, rather than a biblical place: “Heaven, where hate is not allowed. Heaven, another word for love. Heaven, it’s not below, it’s not above, it’s in your heart.

On the lovely, nearly six-minute long ballad “Awoke“, he sings of overcoming his past mistakes and feelings of hopelessness by accepting God’s love: “So many nights I wanted to cry. Wanted to fly away. This dream trope has come to an end. Stars explode, but you’re still my friend. And I’m still your friend. Cause I awoke to God’s mercy. We’re all thirsty for love.” And on the folksy final track “Thank The Lord“, he gives thanks for all the things that are important to him, and the positive role music plays in his emotional well-being: “Thank the lord for my friends. Thank the lord for family. Thank the lord for the music that lives inside, inside of me.”

Conversely, perhaps the most poignant track on the album is “Anymore“, where Andrew questions his faith, self-worth and direction in life: “You can lie, and say it’s all part of God’s plan. Cause I don’t want to grow up, I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to shut up, I don’t want to be told what to do, anymore. I don’t want to give up, I don’t want to go on. Just so tired of being so strong. Don’t know what to do anymore./ You can blame, you can blame me for not being a good man.” Musically, his strummed acoustic guitar is accompanied by some somber but lovely keyboards that create a haunting soundscape for his introspective and melancholy vocals.

Dog Without A Bone” is about having pretty much everything one could want in life, with the exception of a romantic partner to spend time with. Andrew uses clever and pretty direct metaphors to describe the feeling that something crucial to his well-being is missing: “Got a million reasons to live. I’m giving everything I have to give. Yet I’m so tired of being alone. Just a dog with no bone. A drunk without a drink. A cloud without a sky./ I have a lot, but I want more. Is there someone out there that could make me sore.” And once you’re in a relationship, conflicts and disagreements will undoubtedly arise, which he cheekily addresses on the charming “Kinda Turns Me On“: “When you get so mad, it kinda turns me on. Tell me what I did wrong. Cause baby it turns me on. Honestly, I want to grow old with you. Live the American dream, red, white and blue. Have a bunch of kids, and grandchildren too.”

Sunny Side is a wonderful album, filled with honest, heartfelt songs about faith, love and hope, and I’m confident all of us can relate to at least some of them. Andrew Neil is a thoughtful songwriter with a special gift for getting right to the heart of things in a way that few other artists can – or are even able – to do. I’ve grown quite fond of him, and hope he’ll continue writing interesting and compelling songs for us to enjoy.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

ANDREW NEIL – Album Review: “Freak”

Andrew Neil Freak art

Of the hundreds of artists and bands I’ve featured on this blog over the past four years, perhaps the most uniquely compelling life story would have to be that of Andrew Neil. The Virginia-based singer-songwriter is considered an “outsider” music artist along the lines of Daniel Johnston, and in fact, he now ranks as the #1 Best Outside Artist on Ranker, just above the late Johnston. The 31-year old has faced a number of daunting life challenges that would have crushed many of us, but his strength and resilience, as well as the incredible love and support of his family and friends, have enabled Andrew to flourish as an artist.

After growing up as a fairly typical kid and a high school athlete, Andrew suffered a life-altering event in Spring 2009 when he sustained a serious head injury in a car accident. The injury resulted in two significant changes for Andrew: 1) he began having a series of psychotic episodes, and 2) he started writing songs, despite the fact he’d never had any prior music training of any kind. During a psychotic episode in 2013, he stabbed his younger brother in the arm, which landed him in jail for seven months until his family and attorney convinced the prosecutor that Andrew needed help, rather than being incarcerated. 

His sentence was changed to not guilty by reason of insanity, whereupon he was released from jail and sent to a state mental hospital, where he received excellent treatment and learned to manage his illness. During the three years there, he wrote and recorded around 70 songs, on top of the 250+ songs he’d already written prior to his hospitalization. Andrew writes songs entirely by ear, creating the melodies on his rhythm guitar. He would record songs on a battery powered Tascam recorder, which his father Ray would then upload to the home computer. To date, he’s written over 400 songs!

Andrew Neil

Andrew was conditionally released from the hospital in May 2017, and moved into a group home in Charlottesville, where he still resides. Upon his release, he decided to produce an album of some of his songs, many of which were melancholy yet optimistic. Andrew hoped that perhaps his songs might help others struggling with similar mental health issues. The result was his debut album Code Purple – Andrew Neil, featuring 11 of the 70 songs he’d written while in the hospital. The songs were mastered by Vlado Meller, otherwise they were left pretty much in the raw, lo-fi condition as Andrew had recorded them. The art work for the album cover was done by his brother Kyle (the one he stabbed in the arm).

In 2018, he entered a studio to record his second album Merry Go Round, this time working with a number of accomplished musicians to help give his songs a more polished, fuller sound, as well as a more alt-rock vibe than his folk-oriented first album. Some of those musicians included Andy Waldeck, who also produced the album, on bass & guitar, Nathan Brown on drums, Gina Sobel on flute, and  and Jack Sheehan on sax for one track.

While it would seem that Andrew had already faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life, in June 2019, while wrapping up the recording of his third album Freak, he was hit with yet another health crisis when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He underwent a grueling round of chemotherapy while the album was being mixed and mastered, and he and his family started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for album production and marketing, garnering even greater support than expected.

Freak was released digitally for streaming on October 15th. It’s also now available on CD, and will soon be available for download, as well as a limited number of vinyl pressings. For the recording of Freak, Andrew was joined once again by Andy Waldeck on bass and Nathan Brown on drums, with additional musicians Matty Metcalfe on lead guitar, baritone electric guitar and marxophone, Nick Berkin on piano, and Andrew’s dad Ray on acoustic guitar and backing vocals on two tracks. His brother Kyle also did the arresting painting for the album cover, which was designed by Daniel Benayun.

The album is an ambitious work, with 14 unique tracks that address topics of love, faith, mental illness and self-identity. It opens with the marvelous title track “Freak“, and the first thing that struck me is its strong Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe. In fact, Andrew’s unusual, quirky vocals at times sound a lot like Anthony Kiedis. The intricate guitar work is terrific, and I love the track’s funky psychedelic grooves. Andrew’s simple lyrics speak of being a ‘freak’ as a badge of honor, something that sets him apart as a unique individual, rather than simply strange: “In every way, every day of the week, I’m a freak, freak, freak. I got a feeling, like a ceiling leak. And if I could, I probably would grow a beak, beak, beak./ What can I say? I’m so unique, I’m a freak, freak, freak.”

Next up is “Kentucky Whiskey“, a languid and lovely song about throwing caution to the wind and giving into temptation and vices. With a wistful tone in his voice, Andrew croons “Goodbye teacher, goodbye teacher, gonna learn rock’n’roll. Goodbye preacher, goodbye preacher, I’ve already sold my soul. Killing myself, killing myself, with a cigarette. Girl I know, yes I know that we just met. But I’m gonna, yeah I’m gonna make you miss me. Killing myself, killing myself, Kentucky whiskey.” He’s written a captivating melody here, and Matty Metcalfe’s marxophone lends an enchanting addition to the gorgeous guitar work. “Hope” is a pleasing ballad about a girl named Hope who lifts him up with her love and support. The interplay between the guitars and Nick Berkin’s tinkling piano keys is delightful.

By the time we get to the fourth track “Overdose“, it’s clear that Andrew has a real knack for creating compelling and memorable melodies. Each of the songs sound completely different, with an eclectic mix of styles that keeps his music fresh and surprising. This song has a wickedly seductive melody with fuzz-soaked driving riffs, and Nathan Brown’s sexy drumbeats that nicely complement Andrew’s lyrics about submitting to love’s ardor:  “Cause I’m about to overdose. Let my spirit soar. Become a ghost. Walk through your heaven’s door. Overdose.” It’s a great song, one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Help” sees Andrew crying out for support and understanding: “If you only knew all of the bullshit I’ve been through. Then you could give me no blame when I give the blunt a flame.” The jangly guitars and piano keys are sublime. “All Over” is a pleasant love song that starts off with Andrew rapping to a hip hop beat, then 20 seconds in it transitions to an upbeat pop-rock duet, with guest vocalist Savannah Weaver singing with Andrew. Their vocal harmonies are delightful. Here’s a snippet of lyric that provides a great example of his honest, straightforward songwriting that’s so relatable: “Because of you my heart beats. Because of you I got to wash my sheets.”

Awesome bluesy guitars are a highlight of the poignant “Put Me Back Together“, a plea for love and support to heal his broken soul. Andrew references nursery rhymes to make his case: “Mary had a little lamb. So will you love me as I am? / I’m a bloody humpty dumpty. And babe I need your company. Or else.” Another favorite track of mine, mainly due to the lyrics, is “American Dream“, a candid critique of the rat race. Andrew laments “I’m living the American dream, but things aren’t what they seem. I’m living the American dream, and it makes me want to scream. Wake up and go to work. Thank god my boss isn’t a jerk. People really aren’t so bad. But every now and then I get sad. So my doctor gives me pills They make me happy so I pay my bills. What would I do without my wine?

The optimistic “Drum Song” has an Americana vibe, with rousing folk-rock guitars, lively piano keys, and Appalachian dulcimer played by guest musician Roxanne McDaniel. Andrew sings of how the world would be a better place if people were more kind and loving to each other: “Love is in your heart, so find it and play your part./ This life would never be such a bummer, if we collectively loved one another.” Those wonderful bluesy guitars make a welcome return on “Beautiful Dancer“, a song about a woman who could be his savior or his undoing (romance can often be like that): “The birds are flying, or maybe they’re spying, or maybe they’re trying to let me know. That you are my answer, or maybe a cancer. Beautiful dancer. I’m at your show.” I really like the song’s rather sensuous melody, and Andrew’s vocals sound particularly good here.

Andrew takes a bit of an experimental turn on the trippy “Thirty-Two“, with more of those great bluesy grooves, accompanied by Andy Waldeck’s throbbing bass and some fine drumming by Nathan Brown. I love the lyrics “Take a shower, I feel dirty. In an hour, I’ll turn thirty. Life’s so fast and rough. I think I’ve had enough. Then I saw her walk back, and I knew I could make it to thirty-two.” The final track “Disappear” is a bluesy foot-stomper with an infectious country-rock vibe. I’m not sure, but the lyrics seem to speak of the mind-controlling aspects of blind faith: “Fork in the road. Choice is clear, do what you’re told, have no fear./We are free, when we do what it is that gods do. Disappear.

Freak is a wonderful album, made all the more special given Andrew’s remarkable talents, despite the many adversities he’s had to face throughout his adult life. His intriguing melodies, simple, honest lyrics, beautiful instrumentals and endearing vocal style have a way of burrowing into our brain and capturing our soul. I’m genuinely impressed by his imaginative songwriting and sincere musicality, and he’s a true inspiration for all who have experienced challenges, both large and small.

Follow Andrew:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / cdbaby / Google Play