I got into singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson late last summer and subsequently ran his debut record, 2020’s “Beginners”, into the ground. My end of year listening stats reflected this as two of the songs (“Lose This Number” and “Northsiders”) made it into my top ten most played songs for the year.
The timing worked out well for me, as he began releasing songs which would be from his sophomore record just a few months later. All this in mind, I’ve been eagerly anticipating said followup. It has now arrived in the form of the appropriately titled “Quitters”.
This is my Christian Lee Hutson “Quitters” review.
Christian Lee Hutson Quitters Review
The record begins with the first song released late in 2021, “Strawberry Lemonade”.
The decision to both release this song first and begin the record with it was advised; it’s a perfect companion song to “Beginners”. In more ways than one, this song would sound right at home playing back to back with his older “Northsiders” as the inherent delicateness and reflection of Hutson’s vocals effectively articulate thoughts on losing a friend.
The song is a beautiful subtle build for the first half before it breaks into an almost sinister sounding minor key based interlude which builds throughout the final two minutes, perhaps reflecting the cruel realty of the subject matter of the song.
Anyone new to or familiar with Hutson’s music will recognize that he’s an immensely talented guitarist (particularly if you’ve seen him live). He’s a master at making complex-to-play parts sound simple, and this is showcased throughout the second track, “Endangered Birds”, with some light strings rounding out the sound.
While listening to it the first time, I couldn’t help but think that this song or sound is exactly what I was hoping for from this record ahead of time.
There’s some moments particularly near the end where the vocal melody seems to contradict the chords of the music beneath it which still sounds a bit off to me after multiple listens. Still, this is a small thing on an otherwise lovely melody.
Frequent collaborator Phoebe Bridgers lends her dreamy backing vocals effectively to the chorus of the biggest single which came ahead of the record, “Rubberneckers”.
With the sound of a full band of drums and bass on top of electric guitars for a change, this is arguably the most fun and accessible Hutson’s music has ever been for a wider audience. The single took me be surprise in its direction, but I was completely on board when I heard it ahead of the album’s release.
Even when it’s a lighter and dare I say simpler lyric, at least by Hutson’s standards, there are plenty of memorable lines (“Never run to catch a bus there’ll be another one” as a play on the concept of plenty of fish in the sea).
Much of Hutson’s music feels reminiscent of the delicate folk artists of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Some of the progressions and changes on “Sitting Up With a Sick Friend” in particular conjure up images of Jim Croce for me.
I’ll admit I didn’t see the especially stripped down and meandering “Age Difference” as being a track I’d be returning to often after hearing it ahead of the release. In the context of the full record, I think it works a lot better, especially in its sequencing.
The change on that chorus is interesting as the guitar arpeggiates down the scale, playing against some reverbery trumpet and some of the most restrained vocal delivery I’ve heard from Hutson.
“Blank Check” reminds me of a darker Rubberneckers as it feels like another attempt at Hutson’s burgeoning unique brand of more pop leaning folk sound, and a mostly successful one at that.
It has some of the most involved production and instrumentation of any song on the record and reminds me that I’m eager to hear more of this direction from him.
Three quarters through, a loose and sloppy guitar solo takes center stage to carry the listener through the outro. While that’s obviously the intended vibe, it felt like the track could have been stronger if this were cleaned up or at least reined in a bit.
“State Bird” has the kind of loose swagger that “Get the Old Band Back Together” had, albeit with a lower key energy behind the song itself.
“Creature Feature” had my ears perking up from the outset, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check the time on the song at 1:30 in to see when it was going to explode into something intense (or Hutson’s equivalent) for a chorus. It felt like a missed opportunity when the drum machine didn’t give way to some acoustic drums crashing in after what’s actually the chorus in the song.
Christian Lee Hutson Quitters Review Score: 3.5/5
As I got familiar with Hutson’s music last year, I found that many of the songs which made up his debut were written several years ahead of its release. I wondered as to whether or not this was the reason for the strength of that record, given the extra time to decide on the best tracklist and to refine the songs which made the cut.
With “Quitters” coming less than two years later, I was admittedly curious if the quality would suffer when Hutson was writing under a more conventional release timeline.
Hutson is taking more risks on “Quitters” and stretching his figurative creative songwriting muscles a bit further. The back half of the record is rife with examples of this.
There’s enough familiar ground that fans will find enough to easily pick up and enjoy on a first listen on “Quitters”. Also important to mention is that Hutson’s lyrics are as good as ever.
“Quitters” is a solid record overall, but it doesn’t quite have the magic that I felt on his debut.
This is to be expected as Hutson is tackling a lot of new ground on his sophomore offering, and I’m encouraged by the success at bringing more energy and instrumentation into his sound.
Whether it means refining the sounds he first delved into on this record or pushing the creative envelope further, I look forward to hearing where he goes from here.