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Paleface

The Show Is on the Road

(Ramseur; US: 28 Apr 2009; UK: Available as import)

Paleface is, without a doubt, a road warrior. He tours incessantly and gives his all on stage. His performances are exuberant and charming, and he himself is a good ring leader for the fan-friendly affairs. But maybe it is his comfort with playing live that makes The Show Is on the Road sound off. He feels too contained on record. That containment saps a lot of energy out of these songs.


The album ends up feeling like an afterthought to touring. The whole thing sounds rushed and underdone. Many of the songs concern the road anyway, which makes sense since he always seems to be on it. But there’s rarely anything revelatory said about his time touring. The title track celebrates his love of touring, but that’s really all he is saying. He loves playing live, wants to be on the road right now. It must be nice for fans to hear that, but it doesn’t make the song stand up.


“New York, New York” is a rare moment when he is looking back instead of forward. But it is such a simple and pretty bloodless tribute to a city that, let’s face it, has enough songs written about it already. “Now that’s something to see / it’s special to me,” is all the sentiment he can muster for a city he apparently loves. The lilting pianos on the track make it a little fuller than the rest of the record, but that can’t overcome the trite sentiments of the song.


The fullness of that song says more about the thin sound of the rest of the record. Even Paleface’s live growl sounds deflated here. “A Cheatin’ Song” seems built to be a live barn-burner, but the vocals sound too much like a jokey Dylan impression, and there’s very little put around Paleface’s simple strumming. “Holy Holy” is working towards the same kind of infectious sound, but it is too spare to work. His spoken-word declarations—“All those drugs are a lie,” for example—fall flat, and Monica Samalot’s backing vocals never quite match up with Paleface’s singing. These songs all just feel rushed and slight. It’d be easy to call them loose, but they don’t sound intentionally unmoored. The songs just sound like Paleface didn’t give them enough time, like he’s antsy to get back on the road instead of properly getting the record together.


There are a few moments that work for him. The ballad “Traveling from North Carolina” shows Paleface can still croon with that gravelly voice. Keyboards softly lilt behind him, giving the song just enough atmosphere to drive home its bittersweet feeling. Closer “Pondering the Night Sky” is as catchy as the album gets. With multiple guitars and banjos weaving through each other nicely, and Samalot’s voice haunting the track beautifully in the background, you start wondering what the rest of the record could have been.


In the end, the album’s title ends up feeling like an apology. Yeah, you’ve got this record, but if you really want to know Paleface, if you want to get what he’s trying to do, you have to catch him live. The show is truly on the road. It’s nice that he seems so dedicated to his live show, but there’s no reason his records should suffer as a result. And this one surely does.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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