In late 2002, David Mead and bandmates Whynot Jansveld and Ethan Eubanks headed up to Woodstock NY to record with producer Stephen Hague (New Order, Blur, Pet Shop Boys) what was supposed to Mead’s third release on RCA Records. The musicians later relocated to Bath, England, where Tchad Blake (Neil Finn, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow) mixed most of the tracks. As final mixes were being printed, everyone was ecstatic about the new album and its songs, most of which captured the end of David Mead’s love affair with New York City (he had moved back to Nashville).
But the music industry is fraught with bizarre twists. Two weeks later, RCA announced a merger with another label that included massive downsizing. David Mead was one of the artists dropped from the label, and Wherever You Are remained unreleased, collecting dust, while a morass of legal settlements ensued.
In reaction, Mead spent a few months writing a bunch of quiet, introspective songs. He soon signed on with another label and released many of those new songs in May 2004 as Indiana. Wherever You Are faded into the background, a what-could-have been transformed into a somewhat distant lost opportunity.
Now, in the summer of 2005, David Mead has unearthed six of the songs from that long unreleased album. He likens it to the experience of discovering rolls of undeveloped film and having them developed: the surreal sensation of seeing details of another time in one’s life from a later perspective. He still loves these songs, and now listeners can too.
The opening title track reflects a somewhat stoic attitude of struggling against fate and accidents, set within a beautiful melody and delicate arrangement. Mead’s gorgeous voice is the assured and emotive focal point to his music, and always a pleasure to behold. Here is no exception, in a rhetorical-questioning middle bridge:
“Did you wait ‘til the sun was out of season, /
Better fade into shadows or you might get burned, /
When you’re high, hear my words and you’ll believe them /
Consolation for a lesson you might have learned.”
“Hold On” is a sweetly optimistic song of encouragement and determination. Mead urges a lovelorn friend to wait out the bad times, promising consolation and hope:
“If I could console you with a little hero’s song where everyone adores you, would you try to sing along? /
Hold on to yourself, until you find somebody else, /
Hang on, love is real, and though it’s left you all alone, I know its light will lead you home”.
“Only A Dream” is a little more jazzy and moody, employing some minor chords to echo the lyrical explorations of the difficult aspects of living in NYC:
“Sundays are the best, blanketed in silence, perfect in the place where you are, /
Comfortable I guess, but no man is an island, breaking waves and shooting at stars, /
Paperback is done, so move out to the corner, dive into the sea of the crowd, /
They say it’s all been done, and life is made to order, counting cracks and thinking out loud, /
But if you awake with a shake and a shiver, from down in the depths you’ve seen, /
Just leave it behind, close your eyes and remember it’s only a dream.”
Mead serves up hope even in hard times, and does so with a light lyrical touch.
Perhaps the most beautiful song here is “Astronaut”, Mead’s reluctant farewell and love song to New York. Mead claims to love New York in the way a man might love a particularly volatile woman with whom he realizes he can’t stay. This song’s lyrics marvelously capture the bittersweet departure from a place that wasn’t as permanent as he’d once hoped it would be:
“So baby open your canyons up and sweep me right along, /
Won’t you give me your cold embrace, I’ll give you one more song, /
Then you tell me a lie and say you’ll miss me when I’m gone /
‘Cause I’m leaving the ground tonight, I’m over your ceiling, /
‘Cause down in your sinking lives, life is but a dream and though you may pretend, this is how it ends, gone again.”
“Make It Right” follows that departure, a musical entreaty for redemption: “This is just the final curtain call, after such a long elaborate fall, / I was only fighting for my life, but now I want a chance to make it right.” Mead is picking up the pieces, reflecting on what’s been left behind—with that winning music and voice, how could he be refused a second chance?
This mini-CD ends with Mead’s sweet melodic love letter to the Big Apple, “How Much”, wherein he recounts some of the many things he’ll miss about the city:
“Suicidal morning of pink and purple glow, /
The city’s up and yawning, a blanket made of snow, /
Sentimental movie from many years ago, /
You don’t know how much I’m gonna miss you.”
The song ends abruptly, almost as if only half done.
While only 22+ minutes of music, Wherever You Are offers up six quiet, mature songs that express genuine warmth and emotional intelligence amidst what was a major life change. Mead’s voice remains a rare gift, and these quality bittersweet love songs to a city he reluctantly leaves are a welcome surprise, musical snapshots from years ago that I, for one, am glad to encounter even so long after the fact.