After listening to the most recent effort from Charlie Winston, Running Still, it’s clear that the man has talent but may lack the vision required to create a unified, complete album. A handful of tracks here prove that he is capable of crafting a good song but the record overall comes across as rather disjointed. For the most part, the slower songs with sparser arrangements succeed more so than the ones with faster tempos and more production. There’s just a bit too much going on.
For example, “Until You’re Satisfied” left me anything but. The overproduction drowns Winston’s voice and makes the song come across as less about sex and more like a tired attempt at sounding sexy. In amorous pursuits as in songwriting, sometimes less really is more. Then there’s “Rockin’ in the Suburbs,” which unites theme and effort to produce a lazy song capable of eradicating the placid boredom of having nothing to do but the privilege to not even have to try. Similarly, Charlie Winston sings in “Speak to Me” that he “sit(s) around drinking coffee all day.” Not exactly the best material for a song and also not a real problem. In fact, Winston is so lacking for real emotional troubles that he imagines himself conversing with Beethoven in “The Great Conversation.” Even if we ignore the massive egotism of putting himself on equal footing with a composer of such imposing talent, the song is about as boring as listening to somebody drink coffee all day (or simply sing about it).
Where Winston really succeeds is on tracks like “She Went Quietly,” a ballad featuring just a piano and Winston’s voice, unimpeded by the excessive production of most of the other songs on the album. The following cut, “Unlike Me,” makes similarly effective use of just an acoustic guitar, subtle acoustic bass, unintrusive percussion that’s barely even perceptible, and something that sounds like a music box playing a pretty melody. And towards the end, “Unlike Me” unleashes a beautiful piano instrumental that proves Winston can create something transcendent when he truly pulls it all together.
The album is bookended by the two best tracks, “Hello Alone,” a catchy bit of pop songwriting that will definitely get stuck in your head, and “Lift Me Gently,” an introspective plea to Jesus for fulfillment. This is where Winston really gets at a something worth listening to. If only the rest of the album were more consistent. Alas, the potential is definitely there but unfortunately the record just never really grabs you. Still, it’s probably a good idea to throw a few of these songs on a playlist and hope that Winston can do better next time out. Maybe instead of running still, he will get off the treadmill and run through some open fields or something. The inspiration might do him some good. At the very least, Winston would be wise to ditch the beatboxing and drum machines in favor of some twinkling piano keys and the simple strums of an acoustic guitar.