(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CD review - David Lowery. The Palace Guards (2011)

Why would David Lowery finally get around to making his first solo album? His singing and writing voice are central to his bands Cracker and the loosely resurrected Camper Van Beethoven. Couldn't he find room for his songs there? Lowery says he finally decided to stop forcing these songs, which never quite fit either band, and give them their own home.

Appropriately, The Palace Guards sounds like a cross between his two bands, with emphasis on a grown up Camper Van Beethoven sound. It has the same folk instrumentation touches (banjo, harmonica, fiddle, and slide guitar) that drift slightly out of sync with the traditional folk sound, but the beats are more laid back and the sentimentality is stronger. Lyrically, Lowery still shows off his sneering, smartass attitude along with a skewed matter-of-fact perspective.

The opening track, Raise 'em Up On Honey, has a folky mix of banjo, steel guitar, and harmonica that is immediately recognizable as Camper Van Beethoven, like a faster Sad Lovers Waltz. The straight ahead lyrics paint an idyllic picture of moving back to the mountains. By the second verse, he's already talking about giving his kids weapons training to prepare for the DEA snoops. In the last verse, he's mapped out his clan's place in the world:
Every fortnight or so, the Bible thumpers, they come around
They're worried 'bout the eternal souls of my daughters and my sons
Well they'll be fine, they'll move to the city, start black metal bands
Give it up and move back up the mountain again
Raise their little broods on mountain waters from glaciers blue
The eclectic jump to the title track is also CVB trick, although the song itself sounds like Lowery's version of Pavement. The stop and go rhythmic shifts mesh well with the non sequitur lyrics. This eases into a gentle, psychedelic, swaying groove for Deep Oblivion. It's sentimental and nostalgic with a soothing slide guitar line.

These first three songs vary so widely in sound and mood, but Lowery's voice and the underlying instrumentation provide a continuity that feels right. It's a blueprint that continues through the rest of the album. Each track hits a sweet spot, sounding familiar and brand new all at once. David Lowery's unreliable narrators on each song offer their shaky worldviews with all the charm they can muster. Whether it's the pathetic liar offering his ludicrous excuse in Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me or the gentle blarney/allegory of I Sold the Arabs the Moon, the songs are engaging and relaxed.

David Lowery's The Palace Guards is not a huge stylistic departure from his bands. Rather, it's a distillation of his sound with equal hints of moonshine and brandy.

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