The old adage “write what you know” pays off handsomely for Alex Jordan on his debut solo album, “The Subtle Exhibitionist,” and what Jordan knows is California. Equal parts introspection and open-road abandon, the young musician pulls from the twangy Bakersfield tradition and the sun-drenched rock favored by fellow residents Jackie Greene and The Mother Hips with a keen eye and lived-in wit many more experienced writers would envy.
Jordan, who plays nearly everything besides drums on the album, comes out of the gate loaded for bear, with the ripping “Your Kingdom Comes with a View,” complete with a searing guitar solo. Next up, the former Midnight North keyboard player doles out some homespun wisdom — “My mom taught me all my manners, but she also taught me to curse” — over lilting pedal steel and gentle country on “I Know I’ll Be OK.” “Golden Land” splits the difference between the first two tracks, sounding a bit like Dawes, and like that band, Jordan shows discipline and restraint, letting the song rule the day without unnecessary adornments.
On “It’s Cool,” Jordan shows some humor, listing all of the things that don’t bother him about a partner. Right. In stark relief, “To Be Whole” is Jordan at his most vulnerable. It’s a pretty ballad, with finger-picked acoustic guitar, and Jordan sings of giving himself over to someone else. It might be the best thing on the album.
While country seeps into every song in one way or another, the road-tripping “California In My Eyes” is the closest thing to modern country: straightforward in every sense, vulnerability and nuance are abandoned like a cigarette butt tossed out of the window of a truck blazing down the highway. But before you have a chance to peg Jordan as the next bro-country superstar, he pivots to “Till We Are Gone,” a tropical-tinged tune pulling in some Grateful Dead and Little Feat influence.
“Makuahine” is a pretty, moody, acoustic guitar ditty, evocative even without lyrics. It’s well played, well placed and makes us think more artists should consider adding instrumental songs to their albums — if they can come up with ones this good.
“Smile at Me” is a downcast piano ballad, with Jordan turning his angst to a difficult relationship: “You think I learned my lesson from screaming and pounding your door/ And when I’m called to question, you’ll ask why me why I won’t give more.” Regal horns are tastefully blended in, and a big, epic wordless bridge uses them and some subtle but sweet electric guitar to great effect, leading to a triumphant chorus. It’s a brief but stunning moment.
Jordan saves the autobiographical title track for the end, telling tales of learning to play guitar and time in San Francisco and Los Angeles, “a lonesome LA cowboy in the San Francisco scene.”
Jordan’s debut is strong and at times remarkable and is recommended for fans of Gram Parsons, Ryan Adams and everyone in between.