Harry Chapin – Verities & Balderdash (1974)
‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ kicks off Verities & Balderdash at the melancholy intersection of realism and sentiment. The verses portray missed opportunities between a father and son, while the chorus rings of bedtime stories that were never told. It can bring even the most stoic men to tears. Moments later, Chapin steers the emotional roller coaster elsewhere with ’30,000 Lbs. of Bananas’, which is probably the most upbeat song I’ve ever heard about a tragic accident. Chapin’s familiar voice and simple guitar are supported throughout by flourishes and the occasional orchestra.
Each song reveals a fresh narrative, occasionally tongue in cheek, and always poignant. He’s an astute observer of people and sympathetic to the emotional complexities of memories. Finally, the mercurial run of melodies concludes with the innocent and precious ‘Six String Orchestra’. – Jeremy Schaefer
Allo Darlin’ – Europe (2012)
Allo Darlin’ first caught my attention with their 2010 self-titled debut, which turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor into Belle & Sebastian-esque indie-pop. However, with indie-pop comes a heavy risk of cliché that eventually grows increasingly tiresome. Thankfully, Allo Darlin’ shed unnecessary pop culture odes for richer soundscapes and heartfelt lyrics.
The album title, Europe, apparently refers to a lengthy bus trip the group took across the continent during times of financial crisis and general unrest. On the title track, Elizabeth Morris asks “How do you feel about Europe? Does it surprise you on the continent you don’t feel the same?” and explains “I’ve been here for days, and I’ve never felt so poor, and I have no idea what I am looking for.” Despite the negativity, joy inevitably wins out and Allo Darlin’ always sound as if they are doing their best to find beauty in imperfections. Morris & co. take to heart her advice on standout cut ‘Neil Armstrong’: “I can’t separate what’s real, but I know that I believe in you”.
Rarely are icons, whether it is a place or person, everything they are cracked up to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth believing in them nonetheless. – Joe Mateo
F.J. McMahon – Spirit of the Golden Juice (1969)
The more we grow, the more we grow apart from our purlieus. Nowadays, connection to the world at large appears to come via disconnection — withdrawing from the desks and drawers to steer the daily grind toward an eye for small-scale awe rather than the next rung.
These are familiar songs filtering in from another room, one that’s hidden in plain view but has in truth always been around, dusty, discolored, corralling the brunt of our beatitude while falling short of outright bluster. They don’t evanesce into oblivion as many druggy affairs might after a brief hurrah. Spirit of the Golden Juice is an enduring haze because it’s laid in the weeds for an eternity, waiting for the switch to be flicked on upstairs and the light to shine through the cobwebs of common drudgery. This collection of folk numbers is kind of illusory as well, brumous, nimble in deceptive fashion, McMahon’s stone-faced maundering perpetually tugged beyond decay’s gullet by lissom drums and lustrous electric guitars that trace powdery yet no less plucky curlicues on dusk’s wide open canvas. A morning dew percolates in the heart of darkness.
Within these frames, agitation is set against weatherworn austerity — only the bare necessities are called for if we’re to keep from calling attention to ourselves.
We’re humble as we mumble, for we’ve cantered out there and concluded that our only place in this concourse is down here in its crannies. That we’ve sussed our place out after all these years is a windfall we can’t quite wrap our head around but sure as hell won’t release. “I know I’ve lost a good part of my life, but I’ll do it again.” This was worth everything we went through. We’ve taken to our new surroundings and won’t stand for them being taken away. Ahead rests a tortuous road that sees the twists and turns in our rear view blushing in embarrassment. That’s nothing to bemoan. The longer the road, the farther we feel we’ve come, the farther we feel we’ve gotta go.
The lowdown is that this slab of loner-folk is…positively irenic. It seems to revel in its solitude as opposed to regretting it — warm rather than woeful, honeyed rather than harrowing, inspiriting rather than imperious. “I feel alone this morning/just like my body’s been reborn,” McMahon muses, and the number’s demulcent tone encircles us as the most compassionate partner in crime, trusting and trustworthy, ever-there to pick us up when we trip over our fuddle of fancies.
On the heels of our support, a state of grace. Our visions are floodlit: “I took a bite from the apple and saw through the sky.” The unimaginable has been imagined. The unattainable has been attained. We’ve drawn faith from the once-unbelievable.
We’re plugged in. We’re alone together. We won’t be found. – Vinh Cao