Friday, October 23, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-sporadic record review #1

I’ve managed to stay fairly regular with my Shuffle Play Friday posts. This Friday, not only did I not have my weekly SPF up before shuffling off for a busy final day of the work week, I had little, or no time prior to work to parcel together my thoughts.

Usually, I’ve got most of this written Thursday night, and even have it posted prior to midnight, when Thursday shifts into the wee hours of Friday. Thursday night, I was gassed and in bed by nine. My day job has been kicking me in the ass of late, coupled with a physical routine that is forcing me relocate the energy level that I once had when I was a young man.

Today, while eating my lunch, sitting outside my office, in the parking lot, I cobbled together a few thoughts, and a couple of paragraphs that approximated some of my feelings about a new CD that arrived in the mail. It’s been awhile since a collection of music has me this excited about some new tunes.

This week, as much as I wanted to write about another batch of four, or five songs, I’ve decided to forgo that convention, at least temporarily. The reason being, Joel Plaskett’s new triple disc, Three, showed up yesterday, in the mail. Holy fucking shit!! While I had some high expectations about Plaskett, based upon a few things I’ve read, plus the handful of tracks I’ve listened to online, this new record has been playing over and over since yesterday afternoon, when I ran out to my post office box in hopes that the new disc (s) had arrived. I wasn’t disappointed. It was sitting in my box, and I’ve been listening in my car, at home (even Miss Mary, not the biggest fan of most of my music gives it a “thumbs up”), and in my head for the past 24 hours.

The first disc (at least the way the CD is sequenced) contains several of the tracks I had previewed online; tunes like “Gone, Gone, Gone,” “Through & Through & Through,” and “You Let Me Down.” All stellar and I love being able to blast them on something besides my computer. The other two discs also are filled with amazing stuff. On disc two, “Beyond, Beyond, Beyond” is one of my favorites on the entire disc. With its plaintive look back at what I believe is autobiographical material—Plaskett’s youth growing up in Nova Scotia (he mentions Lunenburg, the town where he was born, before moving to Halifax, “In ’87 I moved away”).

With a line like “Beauty, love and people close, because that is what we need the most,” Plaskett sets forth his priorities and values for his listeners. This isn’t someone that got into music for the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” stereotypes. No, he’s got something to say, and every song is infused with something worth taking away. Plaskett’s a songwriter and he knows he way around words and imagery.

The arrangements on Three are mostly simple and spare, although simple doesn’t mean lacking punch, or power. Plaskett is a musician that understands space in his music, and doesn’t feel the need to fill it with a bunch of noise, or guitar wankery. In fact, the axe work provides what’s necessary, and nothing more. Plaskett proves that he’s a tasteful player, and both his playing, along with the fretwork of his dad (yes, his freakin’ dad!), Bill show a stylistic nod to being comfortable with the knowledge that less is more. Father and son share songwriting credits on disc two’s “Heartless, Heartless, Heartless.” The elder Plaskett, a former folkie during the 80s, also contributes piano, tenor guitar, and even bouzouki (a mainstay in modern Greek music).

The backing vocals of Anna Egge and Rose Cousins add something unique to the record. In fact, Plaskett indicates that he wrote parts into songs, like in “Wishful Thinking,” which tracks in at 7:15, and uses a basic arrangement of a drum machine, guitar and great call and answer lines, courtesy of Egge and Cousins, as well as adding some amazing harmonies on this one.

From an interview that Plaskett did back in May for The Coast, a Halifax-based arts and entertainment site, he indicates that Three has a definite narrative arc, basically, a story in three parts; going away, being alone and then coming back home.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why this new disc, by a musician that two weeks ago, I knew nary a thing about, has quickly forged a connection through his songs, evoking memories and remembrances from my own life.

There is always a temptation to read our own experiences into songs, and the words of songsmiths, or writers in general; there is even a danger in personalizing music entirely. At the same time, good songwriting is impressionistic, and has the ability to transport us.

Plaskett’s new disc (s) does that and more.

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