The first few bars of Robert LaRoche’s “Seeds of Doubt” don’t waste any time seducing us with their exquisite, lush strings and patchwork of soft, breezy beats, but as listeners will soon find, these wondrous strands of alternative Americana are only a glimpse into what LaRoche’s new EP, A Thousand Shades, is jam-packed with. “Seeds of Doubt” swings lightly and prepares us for the easygoing swagger of what’s to come in the next track, the shimmering “Drawn to You,” which starts off in a mist of glowing vocals before giving in to a hooky sway that invites the audience to take a step into its beautifully melodic soundscape. Without question, A Thousand Shades gets cooking right out of the gate and keeps us engaged from beginning to end in its six inimitable songs.
More bucolic textures are waiting for us in the title track, but the energy in LaRoche’s serenade here is hardly countrified in nature. His retrospective lyrics definitely add a layer of warmth to the music, but this song is all about the relationship between our lead singer and his backing band. Their chemistry is off the charts-good, and even if the spotlight is always transfixed on LaRoche, he doesn’t have any difficulties sharing the stage with his excellently-selected supporting cast. “Jet Blue” kicks up the tempo from where “A Thousand Shades” leaves off, launching us into a power pop volley of strings and pulsating percussion while keeping the focus on the sporty hook in the eye of the storm.
Though “Jet Blue” is probably the best song on this record, it doesn’t minimize the impact of the tracks that follow it at all. LaRoche shifts gears again for the acoustic-based “Too Much at Once,” but the segue from the rip-roar rhythm of the preceding jam into this relaxed ballad isn’t bumpy in the least. The two actually complement each other perfectly, and to be frank, I’ve yet to have a listening session with A Thousand Shades where I didn’t wind up playing the entire EP from beginning to end without feeling the urge to press the skip button once. There’s no filler in this record – just pure, unadulterated expression from one of the finest singer/songwriters active in the Austin scene today.
A Thousand Shades wraps up with “The Dream is Gone,” a jittery electric pop bruiser that leans on a traditional framework but contains a litany of experimental elements that give it a decidedly different sound than anything I’ve reviewed this year. The song fades to black rather cinematically, as if to say To Be Continued… while the credits roll over a darkened screen. Something tells me that this won’t be the last that we see of Robert LaRoche, and there’s enough evidence in this most recent studio set to support the notion that he’s nowhere near the conclusion of his solo career – in fact, I think it’s quite clear that he’s just getting started in showing us what he can do when there aren’t any restrictions to stifle his endless creativity as a songwriter.