Jud Caswell,
Blackberry Time
(Alderdown, 2007)

A critic learns early on to recognize that, even if something is not especially to his taste, that doesn't make it bad. "Bad" is something else, and it is not Jud Caswell, a Maine-based singer-songwriter with a warm voice and an amiable musicality. Not to my taste is what we are talking about here: an acoustic guitar player whose work owes its principal inspiration to the likes of James Taylor and Cat Stevens.

Those are not deep roots, and whatever else might be said about them, they certainly are not "folk music." Folk music, which has all of human experience as its starting point, is more resonant than they are, and a folk musician is not defined simply as anybody who plays acoustic guitar in more or less solo performance. Caswell is no folk singer in any definition that does not incorporate the prefix "post." If Taylor and Stevens were/are post-folk singers, Caswell is a post-post-folk singer. Not the sort of thing I dream about.

He's good, though. By any definition his songs are well-crafted, and the arrangements are smartly conceived and executed, suffused with textured jazz-pop rhythms. His guitar skills, well above average, are employed with taste and restraint. I like it that he gives voice to frank political sentiment, particularly eloquently expressed in "The Men Behind the Bushes" -- and by "Bushes" he does not mean shrubs. He has a melodic sense that even a reviewer as grudgingly inclined as the undersigned cannot disparage. "The Raven in the Apple" even seems like a faint echo of an old, old ballad (besides, of course, the more obvious influence, Poe's "The Raven"), though probably not because I suspect Caswell doesn't know much about "Twa Corbies."

On the other hand, songs like "What Ever Happened to Rob" betray, in my hearing, their composer's relative youth. As I listen to it, I can't bring myself to care what happened to Rob. The romantic ups and downs chronicled in other compositions (however appealing the melodies and arrangements) feel too personal and too specific to engage me much -- in short, the usual singer-songwriter failure to communicate to those of us who aren't personal friends of his. On the third hand, the title song causes me to think of the late Steve Goodman, and that is not a bad thing.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jerome Clark

29 December 2007

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