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Review - Tom Curren's new EP Summerland Road

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If you were a surfer in the 80’s and 90’s, you wanted to ride waves like Tommy Curren. Albeit goofy or natural, Aussie or Seppo, you knew who was the best surfer in the world. Curren was a performance artist: smooth, quiet and soulful. But as he seemed more and more disillusioned with the professional surf scene and spent increasing time on boat trips to Indonesia as part of Rip Curl’s legendary The Search video series, Curren also spent more and more time honing his guitar skills. This led to his drawing a secondary trajectory which included albums and live gigs that have culminated into his latest folk-rock effort: Summerland Road.

Curren started playing drums early in his teens, telling ESPN that his early morning pre-class practice sessions often woke the neighbors. However, the drums provided a basis for his later musical exploration. He delved into various instruments such as the bass, guitar, as well as the ukulele and mandolin to begin shaping what started as a raw, blues rock amalgam but grew into a more confident and controlled style that draws on everything from classic rock and folk to reggae.

Tom Curren has recorded and performed as part of the Ocean Surfaces and the Skipping Urchins. In 1993, he traveled through America’s surfing heartland on a 27-stop tour. His blues jam guitar leads had become known to the surf world through The Search video in which he not only rips apart Jeffery’s Bay like no other surfer before, he also lays down the rhythm and lead guitar emulating the deep, elongated lines drawn across each wave. However, what surprised many fans was the lucid soul of his voice on his self-titled album released in 2004. In addition to his timeless surf style, Curren had become famous for skittish and nervous live interviews, but his musical voice was clear and confident, bluesy and rich.

And where his last album was spare and gloomy with a country twang of banjo and steel guitar, Summerland Road comes off as buoyant and more diverse in its reach and with hooks that grab. With shades of the Wallflowers, The Eagles, and even a little Beck (i.e. Sea Change), this is decidedly not "surf music" as it has been culturally defined. Instead, Curren tunes into a timeless rock genre that has become the mainstay of fellow musician surfers like Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter. However, ironically, the question remains as to whether either of them would exist without Curren’s influence.

Lyrically, Summerland Road relies on timeless themes rather than cliché surfing metaphors. On the title track, Curren laments, “Did I want to live your life/ struggling to get by/ always thinking about tomorrow.” He comes to the conclusion: “Gotta go/ I can’t follow.” In fact, Curren’s musicianship and song writing is plenty strong enough to transcend surfing. While it’s pretty hard to separate Tom Curren from his surfing legacy, his new collection of songs is worthy of standing alone on its own merits with no help from the ocean although we know they wouldn’t exist without it.

The new EP “Summerland Road” will be available October 16th.

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