Review: Andy Livingston “Indigo”

Andy Livingston “Indigo”

16 Dec, 2010 Jim Testa

Andy Livingston, hailing from Salt Lake City, Utah, has been playing piano since age 7 and cites Tori Amos as his biggest influence.   Indigo marks this talented twentysomething’s first release, a 12-song collection recorded with a full band on which Livingston’s piano and vocals command the most attention.  File under “easy listening,” to be sure, but don’t write Livingston off as a one-trick pony.  His forte may be effusive piano ballads like his muse Ms. Amos, but he’s got a few ideas of his own.  In fact, the strongest tracks here are those where Livingston strays from his comfort zone.  Throughout the album, despite elements of pop music, Livingston infuses a strong sense of spirituality.

“Indigo Winter” opens the experience and sets the mood immediately with a formal piano intro and  Livingston’s reedy vocal warning of the coming of an “indigo winter.”  At the chorus, though, the song expands into a lush orchestral arrangement with expansive harmonies.   The pattern repeats a few times, a quiet verse with solo piano and vocal opening up into a sweeping chorus, and as Livingston tells his bewitching but confounding love interest that he’ll be back next year, the song ends with the piano reiterating the main melody.   It’s a well-developed arrangement that leaves that haunting melody ringing in your ear.  “Bastard Son” ratchets up the volume with a heavier, guitar-fueled sound with a sinister organ filling in the bottom of the mix.    Livingston’s vocal is much more emphatic here, the stinging electric guitars and seething organ creating a dark, almost menacing tone. There’s true drama in the arrangement, with the moody textures of guitar and keyboards creating a palpable tension.

“Strangers Who Double As Lovers” completely changes the mood, going back to a piano ballad.   The lyric gets a bit baroque as a stranger in the forest accosts the singer, who does not remember the stranger’s name.   Things get a bit quirky with another big, orchestral chorus segueing into   an odd minor-key bridge, then returning to the piano melody.  Next, the almost classical piano introduction to “Light” introduces a fairy-tale narrative about a talking fish, but the song’s nowhere near as odd as it sounds.  In fact, it’s a light, airy ballad full of uplifting imagery with a sonorous string arrangement buoying Livingston’s earnest vocal.

The synth-drum beat that kicks off “All That I Wanted” announces a change of pace, as Livingston adds electronic distortion to the mix for a darker tone, although the soaring chorus that rises in the middle of the track does link back to the arrangement of “Indigo Winter.”     “Rocketship” returns us to piano balladry in the style of early Elton John, although the melody, as is often the case with Livingston’s songwriting, seems more inspired by hymns than pop hits.   There’s an almost religious fervor in both the urgency of the melody and the vocals that can be quite moving.  That theme carries through on the old-timey, lilting melody of “He’s Suffered Enough,” with its music hall jauntiness and  Broadway razzamatazz.  “Where do we go from here, the crystal isn’t exactly clear,” asks the chorus, “and I don’t know about attitude, it all depends on your point of view, but wouldn’t you agree he’s suffered enough?”

That Vaudeville vibe continues with the oom-pah intro and tinny radio effect on the vocal that kick off “Good Old What’s His Name.”   The most playful track on the album, this is just a silly song slathered in effects that pumps along merrily with a tinkling piano solo and a catchy chorus.  Like “He’s Suffered Enough,” it suggests that this guy might have a future someday writing show tunes.

Livingston returns to his defeault form on “Same Day” and “Waiting,” both piano ballads which showcase Livingston’s musicianship and ear for church-worthy melodies.  “Waiting” especially qualifies as a near-hymn, with its inspiring lyric and soaring harmony vocal.  “Heavy” has a devotional air as well, but with a dark and more claustrophobic arrangement, as the singer wrestles with the temptations of sin and ponders the possibility of redemption.  The album ends with “Hourglass,” notable for the simplicity of its piano arrangement and the clarity of Livingston’s vocal.

Andy Livingston’s Indigo provides a fine showcase for a talented pianist, songwriter and vocalist.  While its well-crafted arrangements and sumptuous melodies will appeal to all listeners of light indie rock, Livingston’s  spirituality, which constantly reasserts itself throughout the album, should especially appeal to people of faith, even though the songs  never tacitly address the specifics of any particular religion.

Review by Jim Testa
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)