Alex Balanko's This Way Up tailor-made for campfire serenades

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      This Way Up (Independent)

      As Jack Johnson continues to prove with each chart-topping album, there’s a consistent market for songwriters with acoustic guitars strapped to their chests and hearts worn on their sleeve.

      Local tunesmith Alex Balanko fits into this niche with folk-pop ditties that sound tailor-made for campfire jam sessions and dorm-room serenades.

      His debut EP, This Way Up, is an intimate affair, with arrangements centred on soft crooning and six-string strumming. The best moments come when Balanko fleshes out his sound with subtly dramatic production flourishes: the toe-tapping opener “Dream Break” sports a melodic trumpet break, while the sprawling “Take You In” is laced with meticulously layered harmonies and rich piano tones that set the misty-eyed mood perfectly.

      The more stripped-down folk numbers aren’t quite as ear-catching, since Balanko still seems to be finding his voice, both as a lyricist and a singer. While his midrange vocals are tuneful and self-assured, he struggles to reach the high notes on “Too Late”. And his words, although heartfelt and confessional, tend to rely on broad sentiments and pastoral metaphors that don’t have much of a distinctive character.

      Still, the highlights of this EP prove that the young troubadour has plenty of potential. Balanko’s website indicates that he’s recording a studio album this year. This ought to give him a chance to iron out the wrinkles in his material and give his songs the arrangements they deserve.

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