A true Jack of all musical trades, Sam Friend is perhaps best known to New Orleanians for his tenure in the New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band he co-founded (and their hit take on the “Game of Thrones” theme, which transported it into “Boardwalk Empire” territory). His first full-length solo album finds him taking yet another dramatic turn, this time into indie pop singer-songwriter territory—but the recent death of his twin sister, to whom this work is dedicated, makes it necessarily about something more than a rebranding.
Friend’s voice has the warmth of James Taylor but also the endearingly awkward earnestness of Ben Folds and more than a little of Dr. John’s natural jazz-blues drawl; the music follows suit, piano-rock with jazz and blues shadows and only slight stylistic detours. The ballads, like “Settle Down” and “Strange Love,” come with a strong soul streak, replete with swelling organ and electric piano, but otherwise he’s keeping it light—actually, more to the point of the title of one of his songs, he’s actively trying to “Generate Light,” celebrating his sister’s life in his own return jazz funeral trip by focusing on the joy and the beauty.
And that’s where Twin gets really interesting, because the main lyrical thrust of the album seems to be about what happens when a major life change has to be made; Sam left New York state for NOLA some years ago, reflected in reams of lyrics about the fallout it left in his personal life (“Way back in New Rochelle / in a Rangers jersey / smoking an L”). It gives the entire album an extra level of meaning: what was probably intended to be a concept album about a relationship torn apart is transformed into a treatise on what it means when circumstance forces you to leave someone behind.