Charlie Sohmer,
The Kiss Before the Calm
(Glowing Hearts, 2000)

It's not easy to pin down Ontario-based Charlie Sohmer's style. It sounds like folk roots with a country twang and a bluegrass flair. The songs tell stories about heartbreak and love lost but there is a cool element in the arrangements, something that brings other musical influences to bear.

The Kiss Before the Calm contains a dozen songs performed by Sohmer with a backup complement that just doesn't quit. The arrangements are tight and crisp and the quality is consistently high throughout.

The rather self-deprecating liner notes give you an idea of how he came to write each song and are flip and funny, yet get to the point. The common thread that binds the songs together is that each tells a story that portrays a slice of the human condition.

The devil-may-care attitude of "Murder in the Air," with its rollicking honky-tonk hyperbole, gives way to a frankly sexy backbeat, shimmying fiddle and sassy banjo picking in "Never Been on Time." "Marielle" is a sweet old time waltz laced with evocative imagery. A bluegrass-style fiddle provides a swinging backdrop to "Don't Lie" while "Goodbye Goodbye" is a classic "I done you wrong but I'm sorry" song, again, telling a story with vivid and gripping images.

"Every Feeling in my Heart" is a slow ballad-like song about a broken relationship; the mood lightens somewhat with the driving rhythm of "I Love My Iris Like a Rose," although the bouncy melody belies the lyrics with also deal with a relationship in trouble. "Comfort Me" takes a step in the direction of rockabilly, and "Heaven Calling" is a lovely bittersweet song leaning more heavily toward country, about a man facing his final run: "Heaven calling, don't hang up the phone / I have fallen a long long way from home / If you catch me in the passing lane / Just honk a little louder, we may not meet again." The mandolin and banjo blend beautifully in the background, and the fiddle's counterpoint is, well, heavenly.

"Say No Money" is a lively two step with a Cajun touch and a wailing harmonica in a duet with the fiddle. It's an appealing and catchy song that should have you tapping your feet, if not dancing outright, and humming the chorus incessantly. "Roll it off the Highway" is a stark contrast, telling a grim story about an abused wife who finally takes desperate measures. Sohmer closes the CD with "Fool For You," a laidback song with sassy, killer background vocals from Stella Haybukal and Andrea Karum, and a worldbeat sound.

Sohmer's voice is warm and versatile, with a range capably matching the style of the song. His songwriting talent is in synch with his musical talent. Is it folk? Is it country? Whatever it is, it's well worth acquiring to decide for yourself.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]