Mayday Radio – Don Quixote (2012)

In an often numbingly disengaged world bereft of protest songs — from the left, right or center — Don Quixote is welcome, indeed. As Mayday Radio, singer-songwriter Jeff Ting pushes buttons, and boundaries, that have grown dusty from inattention.

He explores our human failings, at home (“Apology”), in the boardroom (“Insiders and Outsiders”) and on the national stage (“The World is What We Make”), and does so even as he tears away the long-held conventions of this genre’s folk-rocking, Americana sound, to boot.

For instance, the title track to Don Quxiote, out today, begins with a stamping beat before swooning into a dramatically uplifting chorus. Its guitar signature, a gnarled outburst of colors, works in direct counterpoint — giving the song a brilliant tension. “The Human Heart” with Cheryl B. Engelhardt; and “Wine to Water,” featuring Byron Zanos, have a similarly propulsive, almost tidal push and pull.

This ain’t your daddy’s protest music.

Mayday Radio takes a moment to inhale with the contemplative “The Veil” with its heartfelt turn by Angela Ortiz, creating a shattering vulnerability that only strengthens the sense of resolve surrounding Ting’s more anthematic offerings. Later, “Apology” adds a homey acoustic, and a quietly confidential vocal, with an even greater emotional impact.

But, before long, Ting has cut across the borders of country, of roots rock, of Americana — looking for new sounds to go with his bracing themes: “Insiders and Outsiders,” featuring Patrick Hambrick, jangles out with an iconic riff straight out of the playbook of U2′s the Edge, even as it continues exploring Don Quixote’s core heartland themes. “Ockham’s Razor,” with Natalie Gelman, adds a melancholic piano signature straight out of Coldplay. “Confide,” with Stacy Rock, bursts out with a crunchy riff and a processed, very modern vocal.

“The World is What We Make,” a stark and confrontational cry, closes out Don Quixote in a moment of twilight poignancy, still asking questions, still trying to make sense of things, but unbowed by the buffeting adversity all around. Ting’s simple, but devastatingly effective, lyric is bravely presented in front of a bare-knuckled riff, something that only adds to its confrontational attempt to break free of life’s stubborn worries, and it even more stubborn conventions.

Ting’s getting there, song by song. It’s a wonder to behold.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.