Lee Koch: Whole Heart Review

If you watched the previous season of NBC’s The Voice, you might recognize the name Lee Koch.  The singer/songwriter auditioned with a phenomenal rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” capturing both its carefree and earnest moments with his soulful rasp and playing both harmonica and guitar to boot.  This stint was short-lived, however, when Koch was dealt Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” as a part of the battle rounds.  After some contemplation, his coach, Christina Aguilera, selected his opponent to continue.  After his departure from The Voice, Koch dodged the corporate machine that many reality-singing-competition players seem to go through and released his independently funded debut, Whole Heart.

If Lee Koch’s audition on The Voice didn’t have you convinced that Koch adores Bob Dylan, Whole Heart will.  Koch’s acoustic-based blues insists on blurring the lines between Americana and folk.  His harmonica makes repeated appearances, and the occasional fiddle and barstool piano riff surface.  Koch’s voice shows remarkable versatility, too – the vocal distortion on “Sweet Release” sounds like The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and when utilizing his higher range on “Keepin’ On” Koch sounds eerily like country music star Eric Church.

Koch’s song writing excels at gently moving between happy-go-lucky, carefree sing-a-longs to a more soulful, emotive aesthetic.  The result is a notably modern take on a very old style of music.  Much of this album, particularly the first half, sounds like coffee shop music.  The whistling hook in Whole Heart’s lead-off single, “Trusty Branch,” gives the song a dynamic reminiscent of some neo-folk acts like Mumford & Sons or American Idol winner Phillip Phillips.  But if the idea of hearing Koch’s music in a Starbucks coffee shop feels a tad uncomfortable, there are tracks to ensure that Whole Heart is still set apart.  “Celebrities” takes on a hillbilly country sound, complete with a fiddle and a one-two bassline, and “Gun & Blessing” provides the record with a warm, emotive Latin sound.  If Koch’s Dylan-inspired acoustic folk-blues is enough to draw a listener in, then Whole Heart’s quirks are enough to keep that listener interested.

Perhaps it’s understandable that Lee Koch only made it as far as he did in The Voice.  It makes sense that, as a female coach, Christina Aguilera would want to choose a female singer over a male one.  It’s also understandable that Koch might have felt a little unfamiliar with the Nirvana classic – for the ground that Koch covers, Whole Heart is a far cry from alternative or grunge.  Whatever happened, Lee Koch makes his feelings regarding his current direction clear on Whole Heart’s eleventh cut – “I do believe I’m better off without celebrities.”  We do too, Lee.

The Review: 8/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Journey to Unfold
– Trusty Branch
– Sweet Release
– Keepin’ On

The Big Hit

– Trusty Branch

Review by Richard MacDougall

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