Andrew Cash, |
(Positively Music, 2007)
Andrew Cash is nothing if not persistent. He's been a working musician for nearly three decades, starting out in the Toronto punk scene as the vocalist/guitarist for the socially relevant, sonically vibrant three-piece outfit L'Etranger. He went on to a solo career that scored a couple of hit singles in Canada, then teamed up with brother Peter for a handful of albums as the Cash Brothers. Now Andrew is back with a new, independently released solo album.
Originally conceived as a minimalist acoustic outing, the 11 songs on Murder = have been re-imagined by producer Daryl Smith to such an extent that many tracks now feature a full band. Yet, because there was no band per se, there was no particular reason for any individual song to have a specific set of instruments involved in the arrangement. The result is a package of songs in which each track has been given a more distinct personality than might have been the case under more traditional recording circumstances. The album transitions from the acoustic guitar, piano, bass and brushed snare of "Beauty" to the electrified rock 'n' roll of the album's title track, to the guitar, pedal steel, mandolin and fiddle of "He Feels the Earth Shaking Too." And so Murder = has a nicely diverse feeling to it, one that is tied together by Cash's unpolished, expressive vocals.
There isn't much sign on Murder = of the raucous electric guitar-wielding punk from the L'Etranger days. The anger on this album is more subtly expressed than it once would have been. But Cash is still a lyricist with considered opinions to express, a musician who deftly balances hooks with an ear for the sorts of melodies that take time to embed themselves in the listener's brain. Accordingly, Murder = is an album that requires repeated listens to fully appreciate.
Launching with the quietly complex, "Conversations Under Bridges," a song that's dominated by its voluminous, stream-of-consciousness lyric, Murder = quickly establishes itself as an album to which one must pay close attention. "Through the haze, I don't know, I thought maybe I could see a halo around the Polish cashier. Or maybe it was the day-olds in Donut World. You know it's open all year round, and on Christmas day there ain't an empty seat around."
Unfortunately, I think the move to a more sonically aggressive approach comes a touch too late. Track three, "Beauty," with its flawed high notes, might have been better served by falling a bit later in the disc's playlist. This move would have allowed the album to more quickly transition into a rockier musical topography via the powerful and passionate title track. As it stands, the album feels a bit monochromatic off the top.
Once the title track's electrified sound hits the speakers, however, the album comes alive in a manner that allows its later quiet moments, including the lovely "Over to You," to shine in stark contrast. "The Losing Card" presents yet another texture with its relentless quarter note strum. Then the whispered count in on "Living a Dream" sets the stage for the pedal steel's ethereally bent notes and a walk on the shadowy side of life. And, just as the quiet is again coming to dominate, "Black Type on a White Page" turns up the volume and the bpm before "The Naked Man" presents the album's true crescendo.
Closing off Murder = is the epic story-song "Twenty Miles of Texas Left." Clocking in at nearly 11 minutes, this is the only song on the album that really doesn't work for me; it comes off as a post-modern take on R. Dean Taylor's 1970 chart-topper, "Indiana Wants Me." A melodramatic, wrong side of the law tale, "Twenty Miles of Texas Left" might have been written by some strange combination of Harry Chapin and Tom Waits. "We were cutting the cake on our wedding day when I made a vow that I'd go straight. But stocking shelves is a kind of hell and minimum wage ain't a piece of cake. ... Now I got 20 miles of Texas left, the land of the free, home of the depressed."
This is not an album to put on to lift a dreary mood. It's not brimming over with sunny skies and happy times. It is, however, a beautifully rendered, impressionistic portrait of the world that Cash sees around him. A world filled with love and anger and callousness and caring. And so Murder = is an album I know I'll be listening to for years to come.
7 June 2008
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