Blue Lake California
Written by Robert Michael Sutton Just when you have pegged Pennsylvania-based singer/songwriter Andrew Portz as a mellow acoustic-pop act he overturns your initial observation with the garage-rock punch and Creedence Clearwater Revival Southern grit of "Same Old Story." Easily the most rocking number on Blue Lake California, "Same Old Story" is fueled by slashing Neil Young-esque guitar shrapnel and a scathing attack on how the media exploits domestic tragedies for ratings: "Early one mornin' in Baton Rouge/With a loaded gun and some work to do/Shot a man down dead in his tracks...Only one minute till the camera man/Shows up in a van with a mic in his hand." Portz delivers the stinging narrative with equal helpings of sneer and sympathy, recalling Tom Petty in his most pissed-off moments. Blue Lake California is the debut album from this young artist; however, unlike many opening efforts from new Americana musicians, there are no underdeveloped tracks on the record. "Dream About the Stars" and "Road Trip" may owe a considerable debt to Petty's iconic catalog, especially to his work beyond the Heartbreakers, but Portz' songwriting isn't derivative. Portz has his own voice, and comparisons to Petty are due to obvious surface similarities such as the use of harmonica and classic-rock chord progressions. There are two sides to Portz on display in Blue Lake California: the unplugged and the plugged in. The vintage country leanings of "You and I" and the plaintive, rootsy balladry of "I Can Hear You" embody the former. On "I Can Hear You," Portz delivers his finest vocal performance; his singing is thrust in front of the mix, and it is warm and soothing to the ears, Young without the nasal whine. "My Broken Heart" and the aforementioned "Same Old Story" represent his more aggressive style. Neither approach outshines the other. In fact, probably the best cut on the LP is the dreamy title track, which features a little of both. Aside from the two-fisted wallop of "Same Old Story," Portz' lyrics rarely venture away from his themes of heartache and escape, finding solace in his music and witnessing a larger world unfold around him. These are not revolutionary, life-altering observations; however, they work well in the context of a hook-driven, harmony-laden introduction to a promising talent.