Fans of Drew Bunting ’97 will pick up his newest album, I Want To Believe, simply for all eight minutes of the rock-opera “Deaner and the Schwinn.” The song, an enthusiastic romp through every musical style from melancholy country to Beastie Boys influenced rap, captures the appeal of Bunting’s music. It’s not seamless, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Bunting belongs to a handful of young alumni who have found an audience for their music beyond the Berkshires. However, few recent graduates had such a broad impact on the Williams music scene. During his four years here, Bunting left his mark on the Octet with an arrangement of “Freebird,” was one of the original members of Williams Grassroots Music, lent his southern drawl to the Motherpluckers’ bluegrass performances and cranked out punk rock as frontman for Spiny Norman.
After graduation, Bunting moved to Columbia, South Carolina where he quickly established himself in the local music scene. While honing his act in the bars and coffeehouses of Columbia and greater Atlanta, he has attracted the attention of everyone from the Columbia Musicians’ Association to the owner of Harrell’s Bicycle World, who asked Bunting to record an advertising jingle based on his memorable lyrics, “God how I love the Schwinn / Takes me there and then back again.”
Bunting returned to Williams last spring and played to a large outdoor crowd at MusicFest. Since his last Williams’ appearance, Bunting has released his sophomore album I Want to Believe. The album features nine new songs and includes nine tracks from his 1997 debut Treat Your Buggy Well.
The new material was recorded in Columbia at the Breaking Records studios (owned by hometown favorites Hootie and the Blowfish) and enjoys tight, clean production.
The songs are true to Bunting’s ability to channel diverse influences into his own brand of folk – incorporating traditional acoustic guitar and mandolin with electronic keyboards and effects. “Song For Elvis” pays homage to the King with a clever spiritual reverence, while “Shoulda Known (the Oasis Song)” hitches its jaded lover’s wagon to the catchy pop of the Gallagher brothers.
Thanks to Bunting’s musical talent (and judicious restraint), the album remains coherent as it covers so much territory. Best of all, I Want to Believe shows signs of promising growth in Bunting’s songwriting talent. “Fishyard Blues” represents the greatest leap, venturing into a somber and dissonant world. The lyrics contribute to the mood with pleasant surprises like, “And I go to the junkyard / Find a busted guitar / For a little bit of kumbayah.”
The rest of the album is the obligatory mix of solid, uptempo folk songs (“Dweeb,” “Man Bites God”) and slow, reflective ballads (“Significant,” “Up At Four”). And of course, there’s “Deaner and the Schwinn,” with a little bit of everything.
At its best, I Want to Believe is an antidote to the all-too-bland world of folk rock. Inspired by music with more diversity and import than a diet limited to the Indigo Girls and Bob Dylan could provide, Bunting reminds us that the best work in any genre is aware of a wider musical world. The new album is an important step forward, proving that Bunting can take the eclectic spirit that makes his live act so popular and direct it into a mature recorded performance.
Drew Bunting will appear on campus Saturday night in Goodrich Hall. His live show is not to be missed, packing offbeat banter between the energetic performances of his songs. The show, sponsored by Williams Grassroots Music, gets underway at 7:30 with opening act Matthew Swanson ’97.