Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reviews:: Adam Puddington Back in Town

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It's as simple as sliding up beside Adam Puddington on a barstool and waiting for the amicable stories to start. His warm personality and friendly smile make it easy to think he's telling the story - one told without exaggeration or concern - just for you. It's a quality that exudes from his songs and makes you want to listen.

I think the first time I got drunk was when I was 6. I used to heat up apple juice with a cinnamon stick, and I accidentally grabbed the box of wine my folks had instead. I heated up three glass of wine and ended up getting wasted. I just thought it tasted different because I overheated it.

With a simple childhood story of drinks and a hint of deprecating humor, Puddington invited us into the conversation and continued with anecdotes and jokes like we'd known each other for years not minutes. So it makes perfect sense that his new record - Back in Town - is littered with songs about the heartache, hard nights and even harder mornings that we all can relate to. Roots music relies on desperation found in the bottom of a bottle or that flows through us with the last beat of a broken heart, and Puddington is able to set these emotions effortlessly. In a genre that has quickly become over saturated with new found drawls and steel guitar playing drunks, there is something real about his down and out, head in your hand at the end of the bar tracks like A Monday in a Month or Not The Only One.

But even with traditional tracks like Boomtown Blues and the presence of some of the Guthries (Serge Samson, Dale & Brian Murray, Ruth Minnikin for example), Back To Town isn't simply roots/folk record. Until you unwrap the plastic, you probably wouldn't expect a Rick Springfield-esque track like Don't Hold It Against Me to come from Puddington's pen, but the catchiness of the melody can't be denied. While this may seems like an odd inclusion, more remarkable than the melody is how he opts for the subtlety of strings and piano instead of a huge, cheesy chorus and keeps the song from feeling out of place.

In fact, the only constant elements on the record are Puddington's gruff voice and the trust he has in his friends. "After the last record, I really wanted to record this in a house. So we recorded in Dartmouth and instead of paying for studio time, I brought 4 20-litre boxes of wine and a huge cooler full of moose meat and venison. We just drank, played music and had feasts. It was all gone pretty quick. I actually thought it would be cheaper, but man, we ate and drank a lot and it was just as expensive, but a much better way to spend the money."

And I think the way he and Dale Murray recorded this effort is one of Back In Town's biggest strengths. Most of the tracks are recorded live off the floor, keeping the energy and spontaneity high and it plays more like a well orchestrated jam session amongst old friends. Whether it's the seamless duet with Kelly Sloan (Two to Tango), the Calexico-esque sounds of the mariachi fueled Let's Go Out Drinking, the 50's radio do wop of I Leave You Dreaming or how the AM radio, road trip stomper Secondhand Heart takes new life when a liberal organ solo creeps into the mix and continues to blossom when the terrific harmonies fill your headphones, Puddington's catalog holds many twists and turns.

And a lot of that probably has to do with the dichotomy that is Puddington's life. Splitting time between rural Ontario and the East coast, Puddington's influences are as broad the country he lives in. On the title track, he admits "I know who my friends are, now that I'm back in town" and the affect the East Coast has on Puddington is obvious. Despite living in Almonte retrieving peach baskets, Puddington clearly found himself musically in Halifax, and part of his heart stayed after he left. For every song he has about the pains of being alone (Looking For a Light or All I Have is Time - one of my favorite tracks on the record), he seems to balance it with memories of time with friends in the city and the joy of seeing the bright lights after that long, lonely drive.

In the end, you realize it's a process that goes beyond record sales and ticket sales, and although Adam's record could easily fit onto any roots fan's shelf, you wonder if it ever will. I'm not sure Adam realizes how easily he could make the jump to the next level, taking advantage of the huge rise in popularity of roots music, but I don't think he cares much about those kind of things. He's happier making that long drive from Almonte to Halifax to play new songs with his friends, enjoying boxes of wine and reminiscing of times that have long since faded into sepia tones. And to be completely honest, as long as that what pushes him musically, I'd like to think the rest will work itself out.

Posted at 8:01 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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