It could be because the American ‘traditional’ scene is so well curated that youngsters making their own music steer well clear of the established country and folk scenes, whereas here in England ‘folk music’ is such an abstract term that anyone with an acoustic guitar gravitates toward it. Or perhaps there's just something in the air over there.
Whatever the reason, acoustic music made by teenagers in England is generally pretty terrible while our American cousins do a brisk trade in well crafted heartfelt acoustic rock made by teenagers for teenagers.
My tastes are currently almost parochial in their UK-centricity, but not long ago my ears sought only American sounds. Spark Alaska – or Lorenzo Cook as he's known to his friends – is not strictly-speaking a Yank, being as he grew up in Brussels, but listening to his music reminds me of everything my younger self looked for in those cherished Deep Elm imports and Get Up Kids bootlegs.
If Cook were based in England then his experiments with open tunings on the guitar would have led him to sub-Nick Drake pastiche, but as he currently hails from Syracuse in the US of A, his songwriting efforts are much more inline with the likes of Dashboard Confessional and The Early November.
On his latest self-released EP, Transatlantic Waves, we're hearing an artist very much at the beginning of his development as a songwriter, and as the lad's only 19 we can forgive the odd misstep. What's really striking, however, is that he already has a touch of songwriting genius about him. The lynchpin of this 3-song EP is Cleveland is for Leaving: as well crafted and engaging a song as one could hope to hear. The aesthetic is perfectly judged, the performance is youthful, yes, but assured and confident, and the lyrics are remarkably mature and engaging. Cook will only improve as he gets older, but Cleveland is for Leaving would still be a remarkable achievement for a writer with ten years' more worldly-wisdom and experience.
And that song isn't just a flash in the pan, either. Explore his Soundcloud page and you'll find Scar So Easily, a rougher, less assured effort, but still one with the finesse and deftness of touch that belies a real talent. Spark Alaska may only be just starting out, but given time I'm certain this will be an artist of merit and importance.