David Olney: Migration

Steve Horowitz

Although David Olney's songs have been recorded by some great singers, he's a fine performer in his own right.

David Olney


Label: Loudhouse
US Release Date: 2005-04-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Despite making records since 1977, David Olney holds the distinction of having his work better known through other artists' interpretations. Such luminaries as Johnny Cash ("Jerusalem Tonight"), Emmylou Harris ("Deeper Well"), Steve Earle ("Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"), and Del McCoury ("Queen Anne's Lace") have successfully covered his tunes. While it's great that such fine performers have recognized Olney's talents, it's a shame that Olney's abilities as a performer haven't been recognized because he has an interesting and expressive vocal style. He does a good job of putting across his own songs and those of others, as evidenced by his latest release, Migration.

Olney wrote or co-wrote nine of the 11 tracks on the album, which vary from quiet folk songs to bluesy hard rockers. He effectively uses his low voice (think Leonard Cohen) to convey a serious tone when needed, but he's not afraid to growl or hit the high notes when the tune demands it. As Olney explains on the appropriately entitled "The Song", he puts his performing talents in service to the tune rather than the other way around. He does this even on the two non-original cuts by relatively obscure songwriters, Steve Runkle and Rebecca Hall.

Olney assumes a different persona for each song. He may write about personal feelings, but cloaks the autobiographical or confessional aspects of his material in the guise of a character (and not always a human one). The most touching track on his new album, "Lenora" is told from the perspective of a bird. Olney does not specify what species of bird, but through the details of the narrative we learn it is one that is migratory and mates for life. When human hunters shoot Lenora, Olney's keeps the language muted, which has the effect of making the sorrow seem deeper. (Think of Emily Dickinson's great line, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes.") This literary reference is apt as the song's title and theme of mourning for a lost love seem to refer to Edgar Allen Poe's poem about a bird, "The Raven".

On the clever "My Lovely Assistant", Olney tells of a magician driven mad by his affection for his helper. Olney artfully builds the suspense. At first the narrator calls love the greatest magic of all and talks about his assistant's charms. Then he mentions how she cut up his heart in little pieces and threw his love away. At the end of the song, he's revving up the chain saw and declaring that love, like magic, is just an illusion as he goes to cut her in half. The song appropriately ends with the listener unsure whether the magician performing a trick or committing a heinous murder.

While these songs reveal Olney's talents with language, he's not afraid to whoop it up and make a lot of noise, letting the music do the talking. Olney usually plays acoustic guitar, but here he uses an electric guitar on several cuts. His band includes Deanie Richardson on fiddle and Mike Fleming on bass, but Olney does not employ a drummer. (giving the music a strong rhythm without a beat). Olney and Company make a big racket both on "Ace of Spades Blues" and the rollicking "Upside Down". The latter shows a gospel influence in style and in lyrical concerns. Olney doesn't shy away from using Christian references on this song (and some others), but he's not a Christian rocker in the conventional sense of the term. His faith is more radical and questioning of traditional values. He shies away from Sunday School pieties and believes that if Jesus were here he would "want to turn the world upside down and see what's worth keeping", a sentiment even a nonbeliever like me can endorse in spirit.


If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.