Don’t Let the World See Your Love may have a bitter undertone, but it goes down fairly sweet.
The folk scene is no stranger to the coffeehouse. For that reason, it shouldn’t be surprising that Canadian folk-country musician Spencer Burton now has his own brand of coffee, excepting the fact that Burton is hardly a household name. However, those who pre-ordered his third and most recent solo album, Don’t Let the World See Your Love, received not only a 12 ounce camp mug, but a bag of premium Spencer Burton blend coffee that was created by Seattle’s Anchorhead coffee roaster that specializes in free-trade, organic and environmentally-minded brew. Alas, I cannot tell you how it tastes, as we reviewers tend to get our albums digitally and, you know, coffee is hard to taste off of a computer screen, but, according to the press notes, the beverage has “a rich earthy body and complex sweetness with a clean finish”.
That, in turn, would be a fairly apt description of Burton’s music, at least when it comes to rests and notes. Again, while Burton is hardly famous, he is known in certain circles of Canadian music. He cut his teeth in what was originally a hardcore punk band called Attack in Black (a friend of mine once claimed that all punks eventually become country singers, and Burton would be zero exception to the rule), before turning his attention to a folksy outfit called Grey Kingdom whose moniker is now seemingly retired. Fittingly, there’s a song on this record titled “Grey Kingdom”, which would be laying the tombstone on that name.
Burton’s blend of music, at least on this platter, is best described as what you’d get if Iron and Wine joined forces with James Taylor. (Heck, Burton even looks like Sam Beam with his receding hairline and full-on beard and mustache.) This is music for a soft fall Sunday afternoon, the kind of pensive and relaxing music that you can simply just unwind to. There isn’t a track on this record that leaps out and screams in your face; instead, all 11 songs congeal and merge to create a satisfyingly quiet atmosphere. It’s pleasant stuff to be sure. Not exactly the stuff that lights a fire under creative re-imagination of music, but it’s sturdy and solid like an oak tree. Basically, if you’re a guy, and you want to impress a young woman with your sensitivity, play her this album. You’ll probably earn brownie points.
Some may naysay Burton’s music as being nothing more than soft rock, and, certainly, Canadian folk acts are sort of a dime-a-dozen (there’s something about the socialist nature of Canada that has bred countless generations of folk singers), but you have to admit that this is pleasant and soothing. Never mind that Don’t Let the World See Your Love lapses occasionally into cliché (which I’ll get to in a second), and, yes, there’s a lyric on the album that goes “winter is coming”, which would be seemingly the fourth lyrical reference to Game of Thrones I’ve heard in the past year. And never mind the fact that singing about winter and the cold as Burton does on “Blackbird’s Song” basically earns you a pass with the cultural elite of Canada for hewing to every possible stereotype that foreigners first think of when they think of this great nation. All that’s missing is a song about hockey, really. Despite all of this, I find Burton’s style to be quite agreeable and worthy of re-examination.
By far the song that makes the biggest impression is the title track. It’s an acoustic ballad on an album of them, but it has that East Coast Canada accordion going for it and the fact that the chorus is sung as a multi-tracked chorus sans musical accompaniment. The only thing that’s a knock is that, being less than three minutes, it’s short and doesn’t really build on the soulful promise of that punchy refrain. The first song on the record, “Death of Gold”, is memorable in that it’s the disc’s one sure-fire country flavoured track, one that, granted, doesn’t really set the template of the rest of the record. However, it deftly merges the steel guitar styling of the chorus with the nimble, finger-picked strum of the verses. There’s a nice banjo solo, by the way. Elsewhere, the album traces the impact of looking for love in the wrong places: “Diamond” offers “If you were a diamond / Would I find you in the dirt?” and there are two songs titles that chart a course into terrible lust territory: “A Body Is All She Let Me Hold” and “I Don’t Love You Like I Used You” (ow, ow, ow!). Maybe I should take back that statement about playing this for a girl. If she actually listens to the lyrics, or reads the song titles at least, she might form a drastically different opinion of you.
If there’s a key failing to this, it’s that it’s too nice, at least musically. It might have helped things along if there were a few more songs like “Death of Gold” that were more uptempo just to provide that extra bit of kick and levity. Still, Don’t Let the World See Your Love is pleasurable, even if it is hardly innovative. Your mileage may differ in terms of whether or not you find this stuff snooze-inducing or likable, but, overall, Burton has a voice that falls between world weary and uplifting and he’s obviously very talented as a guitar player. I find this material to be a slight uptick on the likes of fellow Canadian folk-rockers Great Big Sea, who have some great songs but have trouble putting together an album that stands up to scrutiny. At least you can’t deny that Burton is consistent. Plus, it’s hard to dislike a guy who somehow windingled his way into getting his own coffee named after him. After listening to this album, I can say that I am definitely curious as to how that might taste. Don’t Let the World See Your Love may have a bitter undertone, but it goes down fairly sweet and, it turns out that’s just the way I like a good cup of joe.