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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CD review - Paleo, Fruit of the Spirit (2011)

Challenging art, but worth the effort

Fruit of the Spirit, the latest album by Paleo (AKA David Strackany), is anything but easy listening. The indie folk foundation is pleasant enough, but a twisting vein of experimental sound keeps it from getting too comfortable.

The album's flow seems unfocused, varying in energy and tone while offering little narrative. Finally, Paleo's voice is a rough, challenging instrument: raspy and cracking, it often seems too weak to support the depth of his lyrics. Some listeners may give Fruit of the Spirit a brief listen and pass it by.

None of that captures the intriguing essence of this album. Even though a couple of tracks are particularly challenging, like Poet and Poet II, most of the songs are quite interesting. Paleo's sonic palette is full of subtle background sounds and unusual instrumental choices, like steel drums. He varies his pace from dirge to frentic percussion drive, but a sense of raw emotion and weariness pervades the tracks. That common theme is directly tied to Paleo's voice. His Dylanesque phrasing and breaking notes invite comparisons to the Violent Femmes. Like Gordon Gano, Paleo skirts the edge of breakdown as he sings.

Despite all of the contrary indicators mentioned above, I was hooked on the first track, Lighthouse. The steel drums set up an island folk bounce while the words paint a picture of Paleo's siren:
My friend, she turns to the shadowland of the darkest ocean floor
Every washed up fool in the dating pool
Finds himself washed up on her shore
Shine your light for me. Katie come around
The song feints an ending, setting up a jazzy Dan Hicks style bridge before returning back to the groove. Cool percussion and simple acoustic instruments create a living room house concert sound. Despite the metaphorical lyrics, the song feels honest.

A couple of tracks in, Pharoah jumps from an experimental start of random musical elements and crowd sounds into a simple, bare tune. Driven by a deliberate guitar and accompanied by light piano lines, the song's allegorical lyrics set up an aching plea:
Oh will I struggle? Oh will I hang from a good looking tie, for the rest of my life?
It's a stark contrast to Lighthouse, but it shares an emotional honesty.

Other songs draw a variety of comparisons: a Velvet Underground/Lou Reed writing style on Buddy Buddy, the Femmes' sound of Holly Would or Honey Be Reckless, or 13th Floor Elevators garage rock of In the Movies. Sure there are touchstone moments, but they don't indicate influences. They just represent a language to describe a unique sounding album

Mixed bag or not, Fruit of the Spirit is worth the effort, especially for jaded ears.

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