It’s been a decade since Guy Blakeslee issued a recording under the Entrance moniker, a span that would have, in previous times, seemed an eternity. You can’t hear the intervening years as you wind your way through these tracks, but you can hear occasional traces of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, psychedelic pop, the spirit of Lee Hazelwood and others who have paved the way with masterfully rendered songwriting. That’s not always a good thing. Touchstones such as those mentioned have become prominent enough that they’ve transformed into cliché.
Laurel Canyon has become a catchall for anything with an acoustic guitar a little reverb. Hazelwood, a prophet for the hipper classes, also proves problematic. There’s a spooky hollowness to his material, a proclivity for contrivance. Blakeslee’s influences, no matter how proudly and openly he wears them, should not work against him, nor should the work of the past masters be given credit for a younger artist’s victories. What works here is Blakeslee’s to celebrate, what doesn’t is his to own as well.
For all this talk of the past, Blakeslee doesn’t get stuck there. He visits, plucking the best parts for his journey back to the now. “Molly” borrows some of its most harrowing moments from the Hollies’ “Bus Stop”. Our hero plays the torch singer to the max. We can hear the torture in his soul, the agony that sticks him with each note, each line. It’s the perfect line walk between drama and melodrama and wraps with the complete collapse into the weight of heartbreak and dissatisfaction. “Winter Lady” follows a less pain-driven but no less satisfying trajectory, the titular woman remaining as mysterious at the track’s beginning as she is at the end.
That’s problematic, though. The latter tune is filled with abstractions, ones that may have worked in Hazelwood’s time (especially when he was writing songs for Swedish television specials) or in the hour of courtly love. Contemporary listeners might want something more specific, some details that reveal what makes this maiden the quintessence of said season. Blakeslee mentions November, summer and the arrival of this cold, cold season but no convincing narrative emerges. Those aren’t jabs at the artist. He’s committed to this woman’s mysteries and makes us believe in them even if he’s not as committed to emotional specificity.
Other, better moments include the less fashion-conscious “Always the Right Time”, during which Blakeslee aches like a postmodern Roy Orbison. “I’d Be a Fool” ably balances danger and the blues during its finest moments, becoming bathed in deep drama. By its end (which isn’t quite as succinct or powerful as we might hope), we have no choice but to imagine it as the centerpiece of some high-stakes cinematic opus or other.
“Summer’s Child”, meanwhile, transcends its production and influenced-based trappings, revealing that, somewhere deep inside, there’s a beautiful song that can still get out and impress us with its best emotional qualities. “Leaving California” is probably the best piece here for much the same reason, to say nothing of its perfect balance of the universal and the particular, that balance that (in case you didn’t notice) seems hard to come by here. (“Revolution Eyes” is also very good because it’s non-derivative and emotionally transparent.)
Book of Changes isn’t a lost cause. It can be an enjoyable affair, especially for those who are more willing to forgive its vagaries and embrace those high abstractions. Others will no doubt be more generous with the influences on display here, finding them less of a distraction, something that will enhance the listening experience. You may very well be one of those listeners and if you are, then you’re probably better for it.
Blakeslee probably has a fantastic Entrance album in him, one that will make him an artist that others watch and wish to emulate. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take him another decade to unveil it.
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