Folk singer Jack Symes has a gift for turning the seemingly mundane into something poignant, finding currency in small moments brought to life with acoustic guitar and casual vocals. It’s no surprise to learn the Pasadena native drew inspiration from ’70s bards in his father’s record collection, such as Harry Chapin and Jim Croce; most of what rang true in 1972 still applies today.
Symes’ debut album in 2019, “Songs for Moms,” walked in the footsteps of such diarists, and for the follow-up, “Tompkins Park,” he covers more geography, literally and emotionally. His new songs wrestle with the anxieties of moving to Brooklyn for love (and the dynamics of that relationship). They tell stories about prom nights, flyover states and cult leaders. And they circle back home to find the songwriter sitting alone on the roof of his parents’ house, taking inventory.
The latter endeavor yielded the new single “I Need to Be Alone,” out this week. It’s a breathing exercise set to music (“Breathe in / breathe out,” he reminds), the party of outside civilization relegated to somewhere beyond the reach of his gentle voice, swirling guitar and understated drum machine.
“This song started out as a poem,” Symes says. “Sitting on my parents roof, observing the deathly quiet streets surrounding it. No kids playing, no cars even, just the occasional bird and some leaf rustling. The poem was a sensory poem, me taking in all the little things that make up that rooftop and its view, a rooftop I’ve sat on a thousand times, yet whose details I hadn’t really taken note of before. The poem ended with the lines ‘I like to be alone, I need to be alone.’ I started writing the song immediately after writing that closing line, and I believe I finished it up that day, writing it with a nylon string guitar in my lap.”
At other moments on “Tompkins Park” (which comes out on March 26), horns are sounded and voices are raised. But here, the art of contemplation has its hymn.
||| Stream: “I Need to Be Alone”
||| Also: Stream “Wait” (feat. Eva B. Ross) and “Prom Song”
||| Previously: “Songs for Moms”