Recalling songwriters from Vic Chestnut to Elliott Smith to Lambchop, Michael Zapruder crafts another set of prickly, epiphany-laden songs and wraps them in whispery orchestral sounds. A quiet stunner, this one.
It’s not exactly a solo album when you bring along 15 guests for the ride (among them Ralph Carney from Tin Huey and Scott Solter). Still, Bay Area songwriter Michael Zapruder has paired things down slightly from his Rain of Frogs aesthetic, letting the melodies and words take precedence over subtle arrangements of strings, winds, percussion, keyboards and electronics. The songs themselves are elegantly structured, symmetric but not quite predictable, with eccentric shifts and forays that slip into place after three or four listens. Lyrics, too, are slyly out of the ordinary. A throwaway line, out of “Ads for Feelings” observes “When the wholesome has marries the loathsome/can you tell me what gift I should bring” and these kinds of sharp, koan-like provocations are littered throughout the CD.
Working with electronics artist (and Tiny Telephone engineer) Scott Solter, Zapruder finds a clean, clear sonic space touched at its edges by jazz, folk, gospel and blues, yet fundamentally un-genre-fiable. Conventional verse-chorus songs are enveloped in elec tronic atmospheres and ruptured, sometimes, by flights of improvised dissonance -- check the flute bursts in accessible “Ads for Singles”, the conga-line percussion of “Bang on a Drum”. References slip in and out of focus. There’s a haunting, Vic Chestnutt-ish quietude to “White Raven Sails over the Parking Lot”, a rambunctious swagger to “Bang on a Drum”, a lo-fi Elliott Smith-like intensity to “Ads for Singles”, yet all these songs are definitively Zapruder’s own. “Black Wine” splits the album in half, a craftily constructed epic, eight minutes long and embellished with choral singing. You never notice how big the song is ,however, since it slips along on its own low-key trajectory, a “House of the Rising Sun” tangle of chords under Zapruder’s husky voice. It sounds both fresh and like it’s always been there, thought-provoking and utterly comfortable. This is a remarkable effort from a very talented songwriter.