I want to start this review by reminding the reader, that a review of a CD should not be – even though it invariably is – a reaction just to what one hears on the disc. It should instead be a reaction to what one sees as well.
I can imagine at this point, a puzzled reader scratching his head and wondering whether I mistakenly said CD, when I meant DVD. No, dear reader. I got it right first time...CD. You see the visual presentation of the CD is of key importance.
And here, this album scores very highly indeed. Attractively presented, the CD eschews the old fashioned jewel case for a 4 panel digisleeve, with white text on a black background. (They have never beaten black and white when it comes to ease of reading.)
And it is with the liner notes that this album scores a bulls-eye. How wonderful to have the artiste provide explanations regarding the creative process involved in each individual song! Would that all artistes would do likewise. But alas, I can just go and whistle there.
It is fascinating – nay, vital – to learn the background to each song. To learn that Mark is a song about the very real suicide of a schoolmate; or that his song Spartan Hotel was about a real establishment in Dover NH; or that 80 John Wallace refers to a wing in a Texas prison. Alas though, Rod slightly blots his copybook by printing his song lyrics on the reverse side of these excellent notes.
Why “blots his copybook”? Well, here is for why: first, there is no need at all for printing the lyrics as (a) Rod’s diction is impeccable, and anyway (b) many artistes these days make the smart move of putting up their lyrics on their website, and telling their CD listeners to simultaneously go there. But what made it a bit of an “own goal” was the fact that in order to get his lyrics onto the reverse side of the page, he had to use a smaller typeface, and this proved that bit too small to read without straining one’s eyes.
How I would have loved Rod to say even more about all his songs: but hey, maybe I should be thankful for him making the effort he did.
Right, I have got that off my chest. Down now, to what I heard.
Well this is an album of his own compositions (three of which are co-written, one with the celebrated Slaid Cleaves) and recorded in his home with just his husky voice, his guitar and harmonica. Don’t come to this album expecting to smile: you won’t. But who says a work of art should make you happy? Not me, that is for sure. It is enough that an artiste makes you think, and provides soul food...and this Mr Picott achieves with some ease.
There should be a bit of a health warning with it though: something along the lines of “please do not play this CD to folk who are on a bit of a downer...it might upset the balance of their mind”. Now that Leonard Cohen has been called upstairs, Rod is a serious candidate to take over from him in the Gloom department.
One would have liked a little levity to break up the relentless darkness, but that said, the songs are not trifles one can dismiss, but decent and well crafted. It is a bit of a slow one-paced album: one longed for Rod to put his foot on the gas, so-to–speak. And I well understand that some of his previous albums have had more chiaroscuro ...but I am not reviewing them here.
However, do not think I am dissing this CD, for there are lines that ambush you and arrest you somewhat. Here are a few off the top of my head...
'I was a poor man's kid, in a thrift store shirt' 'I drink myself to sleep at night, there's no point pretending that I don't' 'The whiskey is watered but nobody’s bothered / Drink enough and you can’t even tell’ ‘I'm a train wreck turning Beaujolais to piss' ‘Pills make me rattle and the cocaine’s worse / Whiskey is a slower ride to the hearse’
You get my drift: the man can write a lyric alright. Now...if only he could be blessed with dreaming up more varied and striking melodies, then boy, he would be a serious player indeed.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Rod Picott, (3) Slaid Cleaves (unknown/website).