It’s always nice to find a soft-spoken CD that gets your attention with quirky details, e.g., unusual instrumentation, unexpected hooks, and pleasant melodies that win you over with repeated listens. Such is the case with this charming solo effort from Green Pajamas band member Eric Lichter.
Palm Wine Sunday Blue immediately grabs you with the opening track “Wildly Polite” which employs a Japanese koto, along with background voice noises and delicate guitars and some nice production choices by Lichter and band-mate Jeff Kelly. The hooks are plentiful and the poetic lyrics obscure enough to keep one guessing: “It’s over by the wall / it’s underneath the stairs / It’s hanging in the dust motes in the air / It’s burning in the fire / a flaming arborette / coming through the soft frost of your breath / She’s waving wildly polite / never mind the crazy moves at midnight / never mind the hungry ghost in her eyes, oh yeah, she’s waving wildly polite”.
Kelly is back with keyboards on the next track, “Lavender Swing”, a song that pleads for a woman (the girl on the lavender swing) to take control in gaining back her life: “Don’t change a thing / there’s a way to hurt him / I suggest you hurt him”. This is lightly psychedelic folk-rock done well.
“Palm Wine Sunday Blue” adds cello to the mix in a more somber melody (Kelly contributes a lovely Robert Fripp-type electric guitar solo). Much of this is evocative music, wherein the words contribute another layer to the overall mood, and their exact meaning isn’t so important.
Fan adoration takes a precious turn in the sweet “Hayley Mills”, homage to the former Disney teen film heartthrob. Lichter employs synth-strings in a nice chamber-like arrangement in this lyrical contemplation of how several romantic meetings might go: “God how I miss her sad funny British lips and her ladyfinger twister in the air / God, just one kiss from that double dutch God-nymph with the scent of chestnut whim in her hair”.
Those who saw Eric Lichter as nothing more than a minor sideman since he joined Seattle’s Green Pajamas will be very pleasantly surprised at the bounty of talent he displays here. While playing second (or third) fiddle to Jeff Kelly and Joe Ross since 1997, this CD shows he has the goods to stand on his own. The songs in general are more upbeat and perhaps a little more accessible than the majority of Green Pajamas songs.
Eric Lichter’s music career began as drummer in a neo-pyschedelic band called The Life, in Seattle in the mid-1980s. They released one album and a later single, then went their own ways in the new decade. When the Green Pajamas (who shared a record label with The Life) reunited in 1993 (they had been inactive since 1989), Lichter signed on as keyboardist and second guitarist in place of original member Steve Lawrence. Four years later, the Green Pajamas put out their first album in ages. Lichter contributed some songs to that CD, 1997’s Strung Behind the Sun and continued to place two or three songs on each of the next three CDs as well (All Clues Lead to Megan’s Bed, Seven Fathoms Down and Falling and last year’s The Caroler’s Song. But nothing really indicated the kind of strong songwriting in evidence here.
Palm Wine Sunday Blue offers a quirky personal side revealed, with all sorts of intriguing musical textures. Of course, there are heavy influences present from his work with Green Pajamas as well, the use of unconventional instruments and techniques to create a sort of surreal aura (with the various contributions from Jeff Kelly really being first rate). Recorded over a period of several years (with help from friends like Kelly and Laura Weller), half of these songs were captured at home on Lichter’s 8-track machine, the other half at a small studio up the road.
Perhaps my favorite tune here is the rambling folk/rock of “Papa Quayle”, wherein Lichter does his early Bob Dylan/Band routine on the verses, cramming in plenty of words. The song features nice guitar work from Jimm McIver and fun “treated piano” and bass from Casey Allen (Lichter handles drums).
“Bag of Rice” is a delicate and haunting ballad of a song, all about some enchanting woman and the damages she may bring. “Cloth of Time” is a gentle reminisce in two-part harmony with Jeff Kelly, featuring a sort of music-box solo. The second part harmony on “Mist Maureen” is by Laura Weller. Another soft gem is “Homely Ghost”, a great arrangement of voice (sounding very John Sebastian-like here), piano and weather (you feel the wind and waves crashing . . . honest).
“Dumbox” is a catchy upbeat song using a full band, this one about facing one’s fears and getting away from clowns and freaks. “Singled Out” is another full-band song, featuring some nice violin from Paul Charles Jenson.
“Broomstones” is a melancholic reflection on some hard work (with Weller’s backing vocals): “With strong eyes, with strong hands, with strong ropes / with strong back /a red house on broomstones.”
These are songs that surprise and delight in a pleasantly surreal way. Listen to it once and a few songs might catch your fancy, listen to it several times and that number should grow. This is fine songwriting and performance from a talent that heretofore hasn’t really shown very much of himself. Fans of Green Pajamas will love this release, but so should many others—it’s often the quiet and quirky voices that deliver the best messages. The charms of Eric Lichter’s Palm Wine Sunday Blue deserve to be heard.
// Notes from the Road
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