Chuck McCabe,
Bad Gravity Day
(Woodshed, 2002)

Everyone's had a Bad Gravity Day, one of those days where the weight of the air is too much and getting through life puts entirely too much pressure on tired bones and an even more exhausted mind. Happily, Chuck McCabe survived his, to create this album for all those still trapped in that gravity well.

The title song itself hits too close to that old feeling. Heavy, slow, plodding and lightened only by the dark humor of an emphatic tuba, "Bad Gravity Day" perfectly captures the kind of day that leaves you too tired to be depressed. This is a song to put the plod in your walk and unify travelers half sleeping through an early-morning commute. The mood becomes more forgiving with "Do What I Can," a lament for a life mostly squandered. The regret is offset both by the gentle, folk-country tune and the final insistence that he'd live his life the same over again.

Though Bad Gravity Day spends most of its time in appropriately heavy waters, it ventures into more upbeat music with the energetic, persistent "Keep Walking" and the lighter, harmonica-infused "Can't Hang Up." Whether it's a bubble frail moment of reminiscence or the eager self-destruction of a doomed romance, McCabe proves he can write a mood into verse with raw honesty.

But those writing talents soar when he handles a story. "Minimum Wager" is always going to be familiar to far too many people. The mind-crushing life of those just above the bottom is rarely given such a poetic examination, but from the moment the song's first star changes "out of her hamburger red, getting into her fried chicken blue," McCabe shows the human face of the working poor in uncomfortable detail. Despite its obvious social commentary, "Minimum Wager" isn't a political song, just a tale of observation, and that lack of a strident message gives it a more lingering sting. "Barefoot John" seems like he must have slipped off that bottom rung of the ladder. Begging his way around town to the background of some appropriate hobo blues, John achieves fame and welcome only after he's gone. Anyone with a locally famous street liver already knows something of John, but McCabe allows for more detail in his story.

"Barefoot John" provides a welcome transition from the somber determination of "Minimum Wager" to the jaunty, almost nostalgic song of the five-cent "One Meatball." The cause of the impoverished diner's bare pockets is never explained, and the presence of the accommodating diner seems almost magical now. As human as they are, the stories of poverty on Bad Gravity Day always hold something of the legend about them, from the unthinking sacrifice of "Minimum Wager" to the thoughtful acceptance of "Barefoot John." These three songs become the sagas of heroes on an album dedicated to the harder moments of life.

Bad Gravity Day ends with an attempt to lighten the weight of the world. The cheerful sinner's confession "Down Easy" has much of the smooth bounce heard in "One Meatball" and makes even he worst ending seem softer. "Now is the Hour" is a plainly Hawaiian instrumental. An oddly delicate tune for this heavy album, it whispers of brighter times to come. McCabe does promise his next album will be more cheerful, nothing but happy songs. Bad Gravity Day may be his exploration of trouble and woe, but those who like good storytelling and a touch of blues in their folk will find it puts a smile on their face all the same.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 23 August 2003

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