When it comes to listening to a debut release for an artist, few things can match that eager anticipation and excitement. Before you stands a blank canvas, and you’re just about to press play and see what colors of paint the band or musician has settled on. For Jon Pozzuto, however, he’s less concerned with canvases and paints and far more focused on the art of pen and paper — each song contained within Valley of Empty Cities, his debut EP, unfolds like a series of chapters in a novella. There’s grit, genuine Americana flair, and a consistently frenetic undercurrent of punk-rock sensibilities. It’s rare to stumble across something as hard to pin down as Valley of Empty Cities, but thankfully not impossible.
“Dead End Train” opens the project up with an instant shot of adrenaline to the heart! There’s an immediate gut-punch of punk-focused production interwoven with lyrics that could be out of a country-rock song, and that very fine dance is what listeners will come to learn as Pozzuto’s signature. There’s as much NYC punk going on within each song on this project as there is a subconscious desire to fulfill the need of being an NYC beatnik. The deft lyrical skill is something most might miss on first listens, but the desire to come back to each track will slowly unveil itself to be indebted to the lyrics above all else.
“Love and Death” ditches the outwardly punk aesthetic for something out of the wheelhouse of Robert Zimmerman; it’s a bittersweet, heartbroken ballad about the immovable passage of time and the thorns that inevitably come with the roses. Jon Pozzuto’s bold vocal stylings give the softer song a tinge of punk, and the mesh of the two eras of his influences craft something uncanny and impossible to replicate. The fine-tuned balancing act that Pozzuto manages to pull off feels impossible, but he makes it work, time and time again. In “Cemetery Grove,” a harmonica-driven intro continues the trend of giving Valley of Empty Cities a bold style all its own. The drums and vocals once again lend the song a slightly sour, punk exterior but the soft interior reveals a gentler side of Pozzuto’s writing style. Gentle keys twinkle in the chorus and the fade-out finisher back into rain and thunder does a great job at giving the album a nice texture.
The title track and EP-closer “Valley of Empty Cities” brings everything together as the culmination of the project reaches a head. Giving the EP the same name as this track is a brilliant choice on Pozzuto’s part because “Valley of Empty Cities” is the crown jewel of the entire project. It tackles a disdain for the state of the world and the way time changes and affects things that were once beautiful and full of life. It’s a genuine punk track adorned with country-rock nuts and bolts, and the entire thing goes off like a firecracker to finish the EP. Jon Pozzuto has a love for not only his music but all music, and using this EP to craft one of the most intriguing projects of the year is a small first step for the musician. At only four tracks long, the EP packs a wallop, so the anticipation for a Pozzuto full-length record is at an all-time high. As far as Valley of Empty Cities is concerned, there’s nothing to worry about; whatever comes next will be a knockout.
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