Most people know Sawyer Fredericks from his winning appearance on "The Voice" in 2015. Just 16 years old at the time, Fredericks set himself apart from the crowd not only for his youth but in his musical influences. Where reality singing shows tend to be filled with pop, country and R&B stars, Fredericks stood out with his strong grounding in folk, blues and Americana. Now Fredericks, a free agent after parting with Republic Records in 2017, has doubled down on those influences with his new album Hide Your Ghost.
There are plenty of influences on display with Hide Your Ghost. The title track, primarily backed by a sole acoustic guitar, finds Fredericks taking a Mumford & Sons approach vocally, drawing out every syllable to achieve maximum effect. “Should Have Known Better” is a more upbeat number, musically at least. The lyrics, detailing the regrets about an unrequited love, are representative of the instrospection on display throughout Hide Your Ghost.
Fredericks goes electric on album standout track “Red Memories.” Starting acoustic, Fredericks builds the intensity, adding a slowly growing drum track before the blues slide guitar slams in for the bridge. It's a good look for Fredericks. His vocals, too careworn to sound like they could come from a man not yet old enough to drink, build to a throat-scarring wail, giving the song a Neil Young feel.
The decision to go independent for this album shows pays off in the production. There was a slickness to Fredericks' 2016 label debut A Good Storm that was great for creating radio-friendly indie-folk hits but which tended to undermine his greatest asset, his raw voice. Hide Your Ghost doesn't just scale back the slickness, it completely kicks it to the curb. Fredericks and engineer Ariel Shafir recorded the album at Dreamland Recording Studio in Woodstock, NY and used the converted cathedral's acoustics being put to great use. They also chose to record most of the album direct to analog, tossing away the digital manipulation tools completely for a more organic approach.
Overall, Hide Your Ghost is a major step forward for Sawyer Fredericks. It's not as instantly accessible as his previous effort but, for a young artist embarking on what should be a long and fruitful career in Americana music, the focus on songcraft over slickness, of lyrics over hooks, should pay dividends for years to come.