Adam Michael Rothberg,
All the Whispering
(self-produced, 2001)

Listening to Adam Michael Rothberg's debut CD All The Whispering is like walking through a Hall of Fame of rock, folk and country influences. With an impressive resume of musical credits as a producer and touring musician, it's not surprising that Rothberg would be inspired by an eclectic range of fine music. The challenge for Rothberg will be to find his own true voice and commit to it. In All the Whispering there's ample evidence that Rothberg could become one of his generation's best singer-songwriters.

First, a list of the influences. The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Wilco, John Hiatt, Greg Brown and Lyle Lovett come to mind -- for starters. That's great company to be in, and Rothberg elicits those comparisons thanks to his self-assured guitar skills, appealing naturalistic voice and keenly observational lyric sense. His use of vocal harmony is particularly Beatle-esque on "The Breakup." Both "Dear Jane" and "Marie" made me think of Costello. He experiments successfully with alt-folk production on "Available Love" and turns in straight-ahead country-rock a la John Hiatt on "State of Tennessee."

Nevertheless, many of the songs fall short in the songwriting department, lacking strong hooks and memorable choruses. All of the songs are well-played, well-produced and (mostly) well-sung. (Occasionally Rothberg lapses into a breathy style that indeed sounds like whispering and unfortunately can sound overly sentimental.) But in terms of songwriting, at times I found myself wishing for those great songs penned by those other artists ... and obviously that's not what Adam Michael Rothberg had in mind.

Fortunately for both Rothberg and the listener, at least three songs on All the Whispering truly deserve to be compared with the work of his heroes. "State of Tennessee" despite its well-trodden subject matter has universal (and probably coverable) appeal. "Driveraround" has a fabulous chord progression, melody and hook. Finally, "Jupiter Moon," a lullaby produced to eloquent effect with simple acoustic and slide guitar, is unpretentious and lovely. All three of these songs reveal Rothberg's skill as a songwriter: the skill he'll want to focus on in order to graduate to the next level of stardom.

Back to the song "Jupiter Moon" for a moment -- listening to it, I was reminded of the simplicity and honesty of Dar Williams in The Honesty Room which Rothberg himself produced in 1994. At that early stage of her career, Williams was just doing her own thing, writing about things that inspired her, in a simple and uncluttered way. That approach might work for Rothberg too as he continues to determine what exactly he and he alone wants to say. I look forward to hearing more from Rothberg, a gifted musician listening to the whisperings of his own unique voice.

[ by Joy McKay ]
Rambles: 25 August 2001