Paul Burch‘s love for all things retro is evident. Dylan (circa “Lay, Lady Lay”), the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, and several other artists from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s come to mind. One might also draw comparisons to Chris Isaak. Yet, Burch’s lyrics are more intelligent, more literate than Isaak’s, the characters of his stories more complex. Where Isaak is sexy, Burch is . . . well, thoughtful. Sentimental even.
Burch never sacrifices the right word for the rhyme. This quirk carries over into his chord progressions as well. Just when your ear thinks its got Burch’s harmonic approach down, he plays an odd chord, a chord that by some standards might even sound wrong. But he avoids the cliché this way, by steering clear of the obvious rhyme and the standard chord. He experiments with form, too. “Time to Cry”, the seventh track, is a good example of this adventurous spirit. There’s something endearing about this approach to both lyrics and harmony. If Burch didn’t throw these curve balls at you every so often, his music would be bland and unoriginal. And that’s not the case at all.
The album is brief—12 songs, all written by Burch—and begins with a tune called “Lovesick Blues Boy”, more than likely a reference to Hank Williams’s early hit, “Lovesick Blues”. If one listens closely, a hint of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” can also be detected. Burch has lived with and absorbed this music; that much is obvious. And right away Burch sacrifices the rhyme. He sings, “I was born in the Southland, maybe that says it all / One eye on my back, and one eye on the door / My mama didn’t want me, and my daddy would not be found / I was raised a lovesick blues child brought up to be let down”. Burch, a multi-instrumentalist, plays tick-tack guitar, pedal and loop tremolo guitar, upright bass, and piano on this track. Richard Bennett plays wound tremolo guitar, Dennis Crouch contributes some upright bass, and Fats Kaplin adds tasty, moody, pedal steel guitar. Kaplan’s pedal steel work is all over Fool For Love and seems integral to Burch’s sound and style.
The overall guitar work on this album is wonderfully musical. Burch, who also produced Fool For Love, has layered guitar track upon guitar track to create a beautifully textured soundscape, upon which his delicate vocal can roam freely without fear of having to carry the track on its own. From the tick-tack guitar on “Lovesick Blues Boy” to Kaplan’s pedal steel throughout, to the Johnny Cash-inspired guitar solo on the title track, to the watery tremolo guitar on “Deserted Love”, to the bluegrassy acoustic solo Burch takes on “Like Railroad Steel”, one might even go as far as to say this is a great guitar album.
Burch, it must be noted, is a wonderful lyricist. There is something very real about his subject matter and the expression of his vision. The lyrics to “Bad Girl She Used to Be”, melodically reminiscent of early Beatles, are particualary poignant. Burch sings, “She’s not the bad girl she used to be since she’s fallen for me / I do believe that all a bad girl needs is love, sweet love to feel redeemed”. His lyrics can also be incredibly clever, as in “Like Railroad Steel”, a favorite track. Burch sings, “Well, I’ve got a heart like railroad steel, keeping perfect time, forged to bend and bow, so it won’t break the same place twice”. Killer stuff.
All references to influences aside, which this artist wears proudly on his sleeve, Burch is an original voice that needs to be heard by a heck of a lot more people. If only this was the kind of thing Nashville, where Burch resides, was producing more of.
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