In the absence of any new, easily available (for us Americans)
music from dark country troubadour Michael J. Sheehy
for the past couple of years, the faithful have begun to look
elsewhere for their fix. Barton Carroll has emerged as
a suitable successor to Sheehy's throne. On his new record The
Lost One, Carroll doubles up the darkness with a fine dose
of traditional folk, moving the dark country sound from the
dirt and mire of Sheehy to his own fine folky musings. His songs
are filled with the same kind of somber poetry and brilliant
lyricism as Sheehy, but wander a bit more from love songs (without
the twisted soul) to stories of wartime loss and wonder.
Barton Carroll is a member of indie alt.country stalwarts Crooked
Fingers, as well as a member of Saddle Creek's Eric Bachman's
backing band. His talents on guitar are more than obvious on
The Lost One, but as amazing and dynamic as his guitar
playing is, the real strength of the music lies in the lyrics.
The enigmatically straightforward prose of "Pretty Girl's
Going To Ruin My Life (Again)" not only begins the album,
but also sets the precedent for the fine poetry that is to come.
"I was lost when you were found/ You live in the sky I
live on the ground/ Pretty girl's gonna ruin my life again/
Let me know what you want me to sing/ for thatlook in your eyes
I'll play anything
" On the second track "Superman",
Carroll launches into a Frank Black semi-country vibe(minus
the Beach Boys influence), only doing so with an acoustic
guitar and a stomping rhythm that is accentuated finely with
some amazing fiddle playing, courtesy of Paul Elliott.
On "Burning Red And Blue", Carroll totally channels
Sheehy, taking the slow electric guitar and dark lyrics to their
extreme place of introspection before launching into a falsetto
at once angelic and slightly disturbing. By the time the story
of "Those Days Are Gone, And My Heart Is Breaking"
begins, it becomes patently obvious that Carroll has a different
approach than his contemporaries in the alt. country scene.
While most folks are either struggling with something, creating
tension in their music, and others are relying on more traditional
methods and sounds to form their music, Carroll somehow makes
it seem effortless
the beauty of his songs leaves a feeling
of easiness that can be most readily likened to the songs of
Paul Simon. "Those Days Are Gone, And My Heart Is
Breaking" is a strong song and tells a vivid and compelling
story of a young man's life, including a classic rise to something
that wasn't something and a falling from grace that leaves room
only for love and retrospection. "I met a girl and I swept
her off her feet/ made her promises I never meant to keep/ There's
a mean streak in me/ Inside a storm was raging/ She had a form
like no other girl in town/ We had a baby boy but I couldn't
stick around/ I couldn't be tied down that's just the way I
was thinking/ Those days are gone and my heart is aching."
The lilting tale is accompanied simply by acoustic guitar, recorded
beautifully, that resonates extremely deeply, adding a somber
touch to a deeply somber song.
There are songs that blast a bit more rock and roll into the
mix, including the great "Brooklyn Girl, You're Going To
Be My Bride," a song that sings the praises of a girl while
lightly stealing melody lines from Cornershop. "Small
Thing" tells the story of a surviving woman from World
War II, and somehow Carroll has imbued the song with a perception
and awareness that is simply amazing. While Carroll writes love
songs rather well, when he adopts the first person and tells
a story, his writing really shines remarkably. There are times
of intense lyrical brilliance sprinkled throughout The Lost
One, easily relatable to many English language poets from
the classic and modern eras, but perhaps nowhere does Carroll's
poetry reflect that of Sheehy more than on the ambling and beautifully
peaceful "Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still" that brings
the album to its close. This song has an intensity and fineness
of character that has hardly been displayed by anyone creating
music in the past few years.
Whether you are an acolyte of Michael J Sheehy's fine dark
country, or know little of alt.country and its scene, there
is a universal appeal and brilliance about the songs of Barton
Carroll to warrant taking some time to digest The Lost One
in its entirety. This is excellent Americana without a hint
of twang, but so much soul and depth that it needs to be heard.
Give your soul the dark light that it craves and give The
Lost One a listen.
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