Donnie Walden III: As Simple As it Gets (2011)

Bio (from http://www.donniewaldeniii.com):
my name is donnie walden iii. i have been passionate about music and performing since i was a boy. as i grew my love for the art and creativity in all aspects of the industry i began to understand where i ultimately wanted to be. on stage. on records. i live to create and share my music and it’s message with anyone who will listen. i try to envision melodies intertwining with new and old genres. trying to merge different cultures because in all reality, the more we differentiate ourselves without accepting each other, the farther we grow apart. music can change a person’s reason to live, or reason to die. it can impose ideas, and generate conception. it is a reason to live in this reality. it is what keeps me alive. i am here to share my journey of creating, sharing, believing, and ultimately learning to love through a shared feeling. the feeling of music.

Musicians:
Donnie Walden III (guitar, ukulele, programming), Kristen Best (duet vocals on “Just Jump”), DJ Fresco (scratching on “Save Me”)

I, like many others in the last little while, discovered Donnie Walden III’s music because of his cover of Brother Ali’s track, Tight Rope.  Even thought it came with high praise from Brother Ali himself, who said it “gave [him] chills” when he reposted the video on his Facebook page, I was at first skeptical.  This was a video of a young guy with an acoustic guitar doing a cover of one of my favorite Brother Ali tracks; I just couldn’t imagine how he could do it justice.  I was wrong.  I loved it.  I went to Donnie’s YouTube page, and found covers of Atmosphere, which just might be my favorite emcee/DJ combo making music right now.  I was intrigued and had to hear more.

I contacted Donnie and got a copy of his album, AS SIMPLE AS IT GETS.  I have to say, I am just so surprised by the music contained therein.  This is a 20-year old Cali kid, making music somewhere between Jack Johnson and Sublime, with some hip-hop influence along with a few other bits here and there for flavor.  Not what I expected.  At all.  But I was happily surprised. This is a 9-song album, and I think at least six of the songs would do extremely well as radio singles… like, holy-crap-look-how-much-money-the-record-company-just-made well, if Donnie was in it for the money.  This does not seem to be the case:  ASAIG is a name-your-own-price album, and .50¢ of every dollar is donated to charity.  Seriously.  Everything about this disc made me think that Donnie must be lying about his age.  The music is too mature… the lyrics are too mature… the humanitarianism is too mature.  Did I mention he’s 20?  Hard to believe.

The album was written and produced by Donnie himself, who played the guitar and the ukulele – a vastly under-utilized instrument in all popular music, it’s usually only around when a joke is involved – and produced the rest of the instruments.  For the most part the digital backing works just fine; sometimes the drums sound too, well, programmed, and I personally have an aversion to synth horns.  However, these few setbacks would be easy to fix if someone would just give him a contract and a budget where a session drummer and horn players could be hired.  The music is there; it’s just the tone of these synth instruments that throw me off at times.  The tone that I do not have any problem with: Donnie’s voice.  Again, it’s too damn mature to be believable for his age.  Some people just have too much talent.

While the music is easy to listen to, it is not “easy listening,” by that I mean that this is not boring, average stuff.  This is mellow, laid back rock with some reggae and hip-hop influence to it, and would not be out of place on the radio at all.  I wish that the hip-hop influence was a bit more pronounced; there are a few tracks that the influence is apparent, but it is most noticeable in Save Me, my personal favorite.  Truthfully, this track takes the hip-hop feel a bit TOO far; the vocal intro and scratching are unnecessary to get across the hip-hop feel.  The vocal delivery, the beat, the overall feel of the track makes the influence obvious without needing the scratching.  Plus it has one of my favorite lines, “bring it back like hopscotch and tape decks.”  C’mon Donnie, what do you know about tape decks???  I remember taking my Walkman to sixth grade in my fanny pack and hoping no one in any authority position would take the time to look inside and see I was listening to N.W.A. and Eazy-E (and The Beastie Boys, I wasn’t all hard…)

Most everything on the album was made by Donnie himself, with the exception of “Just Jump,” which features Kristen Best, and “Save Me,” which features DJ Fresco.  Best’s voice reminds me of Zooey Deschanel’s, and while I’m still not 100% sure I think Best’s and Walden’s voices mesh perfectly, the track continues to grow on me.  DJ Fresco’s additions to “Save Me,” as I mentioned before, seemed unnecessary.  That is not to say that the cuts were bad (though, scratching “w-w-word” and “c-c-c’mon” did take me back to the aforementioned Beastie Boys era), they just weren’t needed to make “Save Me” acoustic hip-hop rock.  The base was already perfectly well in place without that superfluous icing on top.

Overall, I’m just incredibly impressed with the maturity of this music.  The lyrics show Donnie’s intelligence, the music shows his talent, and the humanitarianism shows his heart.  I wish I had that much intelligence, talent, and heart when I was twenty… I wish I had that much now.  Overall just a great, easy to listen to album full of catchy songs.  Do yourself a favor: go download it.  Actually, do the world a favor: go download it and when you choose your price, put in something higher than the $0 you could download it for.  It’s good for your ears, and it’s good for your heart too… help someone else out by treating yourself.

Overall 7.5 / 10

ASAIG for sale: http://donniewaldeniii.bandcamp.com/

ASAIG site: http://www.donniewaldeniii.com

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