Friday, February 9, 2007

Reviews:: Dolorean You Can't Win

Al James has been quite vocal about his struggles as a musician.Troubles with his label. He doesn’t relate to the myspace world of hype. He isn’t trying to write hooks and singles that will end up in a commercial, so his musical journey is as slow and plodding as some of his most beautiful tracks; as slow as life in general.

As I started listening to his new record – You Can’t Win – I wondered if the title, mind set and minor tones that start the title track were indicative of Al’s vision. The song (which starts in vocal silence) dark and clouded. I thought this was a simple representation of where Al is, emotional and musically, but two-minutes in you are hit with a rhythmic piano line that shines through the dark, like a ray of light through a break in the clouds. Al repeats the words “you can’t win” over and over again, gaining strength and power with every repetition and I realized this isn’t his pessimistic vision, but more a defiant response to those who wonder why he does what he does.

Broken hearts and despair have been a common theme in a lot of Al’s work. It’s as much a part of his music as it is the city he calls home, but Al has always been able to balance those emotions with an underlying glimpse of hope. On the beautiful Heather Remind Me How This Ends, he simply says, “give me a few days, and I’ll be feeling fine.” He relies on the fact that things will get better. But this duality is displayed best on Just Don’t Leave Town. Backed by only an organ (at least I think that it’s an organ), Al seems to finally be beaten down – “I get the feeling there’s no winning, and I can’t afford to lose”, before completely changing his perspective and launching into a summery acoustic/piano riff with a surprisingly motivational duet.

As usual, Al and his band are able to craft beautiful, dusty melodies with deep set human emotions. Although less than two-minutes in length, You Don’t Want To Know hits you in the heart. As Al’s voice gradually rises over the cymbal wash and piano, he coldly admits that the person waiting at home doesn’t really want to know why he’s not home at 2AM. It’s a blunt admission that you can’t ignore. I’m In Love With the Doubt puts you on the same journey. Despite cute metaphors, Al admits to living through a break up by focusing on how good they were together. No matter how much we want to move on, a part of us takes comfort in asking these questions and we hold these thoughts tighter than the love we once had. It’s truth; it’s real.

What I really liked about this release is the strong arrangements. The band includes so many different sounds, often lingering just within earshot, before fading away and being replaced by another. The 6-minute epic Beachcomber’s Blues starts as a simple guitar and plinked piano, but the hint of an electric guitar, female backing vocals, and methodical drums make this so much more than the some of its parts. I think the same can be said about Al and anyone who takes the time with his music will see the same thing.
YEP ROC is offering up four songs for you to sample. Enjoy

Posted at 4:01 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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