The initial attraction to Hezekiah Jones debut Hezekiah Says You're A-OK was the brevity of it. The album streamed by in less than 40 minutes. Like a folk-y punk rock record or a quiet, less-poppy early Beatles LP, few tracks ran longer than 3 minutes. But the snapshots in those brief moments were not fleeting… they were true moments, memories. It was as if we were welcomed to singer-songwriter Raphael Cutrufello's stream of conscious. It was a smart, modern folk album and it could have broken your heart. 2011's Have You Seen Our New Fort? is equally as smart – but Cutrufello and his band of talented musicians make this Philadelphia based project much more than just a catchy folk record.
If we must label ...Fort?, we must not emit the word "jazz". The sounds here are full of swirling horns, funky piano riffs and sensual vocals. And though the music is still Cutrufello's, his accompanying players supply a new, fuller sound - a definite variation from the debut. We can’t help but notice the band behind the man this time around… Some of the tracks are over three minutes – and that is, in fact, "a-ok”!
The album opens with a seemingly Ben Folds-esque "Airplane Window". Initially, this song may have you shrug your shoulders. You've heard this before, no? But less than a minute in, it takes a sharp left-hand turn into what will become a playful, folk-y, jazz pop record. The horns are welcomed and the piano purposeful. The overall swing is equally as surprising as the Folds-style piano. A shoulder shrug smoothly slides into a toe tap.
The second track solidifies the sexiness that reared it's head 43 seconds into the first track. "Mind Mallaise" swirls with a sinister blend of saxophone and trumpet. Feel free to point out the Tom Waits influences hanging out in this one.
After things slow down for a bit on the dauntingly dark and beautiful "I Love My Family", the album begins to pick up steam again. "Drawing Pictures" opens with a familiar piano, but it’s the melody and the mischievous lyrics that lure you in on this song. "Guarantees are not for certain/I don't care how hard you been working/You ain't got nothing now/what you been thinking bout anyhow/fools got guarantee/and you got nothing".
These playful lyrics circle in and out of ...Fort. It lightens the mood for other moments - but it certainly can still break your heart.
The next track "The Last Parade on Ann St." proves this. It's a straight folk tune that centers on a brief disaster that ends abruptly in just 2:25. Heart. Broken.
The highlight, "Cannonbal", feels like the centerpiece of the record, though it is track eight of ten. This is most likely the first song that you heard from the release and it seems to break off little pieces from the rest of the album. It's lighthearted but gut-wrenching. Childlike but grown-up. It's exactly what we have been waiting for. It compliments all the tracks that came before and those that come after. Most importantly, it will have you curious what Hezekiah Jones will have up their sleeve for the next release. And that is what a solid album from a young artist is supposed to do.
Overall, Have You Seen Our New Fort? may not have the familiar folk sound that fans of A-OK loved; but this isn't a departure that should scare anyone off. In fact, this is a new Hezekiah Jones that improves on an already terrific sound. It's an artist growing. Grow with him.
Have I seen your new fort? Damn right. And I'll check it out again in a few hours.