Philip Lewin - Am I Really Here All Alone LP
Label: Tompkins Square
Am I Really Here All Alone?, with its forlorn title and hand-drawn cover, sure looks the part of a stone-cold obscure monster; the kind of private press LP that heavy collectors have learned to temper their excitement about until hearing, for it can't possibly be as good as it looks, right? Fortunately, this one is. And the fantastic San Francisco label Tompkins Square have made it available for those of us unwilling or unable to spend mid-three-figures for a lone(some) long player. Toronto singer-songwriter Philip Lewin plays everything on here, and recorded the album at a friend's home. Though it's mostly just acoustic guitar and vocals, with the occasional piano led track, there are lots of lead guitar overdubs and double-tracked vocals creating a more textured and full sound than your usual sad man with acoustic guitar LP.
Originally released in 1975 in a truly micro pressing of 300 copies, Am I Really Here All Alone? at times sounds like early Mountain Goats, and not simply for the strummed guitar and lo-fi tape hum, but there's also something in the intonation and vocal delivery that is similar to Darnielle's Shrimper/Ajax era. Elsewhere, like on piano ballad "Touch" Lewin's loner sadness reminds the listener of another private folk classic, David Kauffman and Eric Caboor's Songs From Suicide Bridge. Lewin's hearty voice ranges significantly from angry to fragile - most notably on side two as the bitter "The Momentary Lie" gives way to the lovely "The Magic Within You" - and is perfectly complemented by his crude but emotional guitar playing and piano work.
In the end, it seems that the answer to the title's question is "no", as Lewin made a lovely second record the following year that features a full band and female vocalist. That record is a near 180 in style, a fairly well produced jazzy soft-rock LP somewhere in the neighborhood of Fleetwood Mac. Though it may seem crass to say, it's a benefit to the listener and the world of records that Lewin once felt so solitary as to ask, "Am I Really Here All Alone?"