J.Trafford is no stranger to artistic creation. A veteran on the scene, performing since 2001, the multi-instrumentalist and prolific songwriter has had the opportunity and challenge of stylizing music that remains timeless as time moves forward. His music has been featured in Pittsburgh Fashion Week and the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival – opportunities that affirm the incomparable nature of Trafford’s musical art. Bellows is Trafford’s latest musical milestone. Accompanied by his live performance group, Suavity’s Mouthpiece, it is a welcome expansion from Suavity’s 2014 full-length studio release, Peerless Suavity. With Bellows, Trafford creates music that is grounded in pop, but has the air and cadence of the alternative scene.
“Chassis” opens the E.P. with a few risky production ideas. The music has a lot of varied, almost eclectic instrumentation, including an accordion and a mandolin. As short as “Chassis” may be, the music is harmonically dense. Trafford’s sultry, folkloric singing works as an adhesive for the overall arrangement. His voice sits warmly in the midst of the hodgepodge, coloring the brightly-toned instruments. The vocals, however, can sometimes get lost in the jumble. Given the sing-song nature of the track, the overcrowding of instruments proves to be a detriment to his lyrical performance.
The first vocal jump in “Sugarcoating” starts the song off strong. Trafford’s versatility in his voice’s tonal quality is highlighted in both Sugarcoating and the third track on the EP, "You Clearly Picked…" He moves between heady quivers, reminiscent of Morrissey, and smooth glides harkening back to Jeff Buckley’s signature glissando.
Stylistically, the second and third track of Bellows are worlds apart. “Sugarcoating” plays like an eerie tribute to medieval festival tunes. The track somehow manages to feel psychedelic without an overwhelming use of effects. “You Clearly Picked…”, however, displays Trafford’s poetic lyrics at its forefront. The guitar rhythm stays steady as a rock, allowing the music to grow and the lyrics to be sung with an imagined freedom of form.
Bellows takes a huge leap in a different direction with the last track, No Bake Cherry Cheesecake. The tune is somewhat jazzy in nature. It’s also catchy and again salutes to Trafford’s versatility. Heavy rhythm-section entrances build the energy gradually, yet effectively. As the only instrumental track, it immediately stands out among the four songs on the EP. While the song itself is harmonically rich and a great stand-alone piece, it feels tonally independent from the context of the rest of his music. The song should be kept aside for a later release that is akin to its individual style.
Despite the sometimes muddy vocal mix and the minor incongruence of the last tune, Bellows proves that J. Trafford and Suavity’s Mouthpiece has the strength in songwriting chops to go beyond pop and create music with depth.
Check out a couple of tracks from Bellows below: