The Upshot: Let’s just say you’re a brilliant poet and songwriter but, admittedly, you sing like you’re the spawn of bullfrogs. So, to compensate, you surround yourself with like-minded musicians who coalesce around your limited vocals to weave a magical spell of epic proportions. Americana gets a serious reconditioning for the better.
BY ERIC THOM
Have you ever first heard a piece of music that was so good, you start to wonder if music can ever get any better? Bill Scorzari’s sophomore release is just that kind of album. Oh sure, you might need some time to warm up to his somewhat raggedy vocal style but, by then, the writing and arranging and the delicate atmosphere conjured by his hand-picked cast of players will hammer you to the floor and steal your heart as it locks down your undivided attention. A few names are familiar – Will Kimbrough, Joachim Cooder, Kim Richey. Yet, this 12-track smorgasbord is more immaculate collaboration than it is any attempt to harness star power. Absolute simpatico might be the best way to describe how each track gels with the next – these players play as one.
“A Dream of You” begins oddly enough, sounding not unlike a George Harrison tuning session for “Within You, Without You” – the dilubra or tambura drone replaced by Jonah Tolchin’s hypnotic lap steel and electric guitar effects and Eamon McLoughlin’s beguiling fiddle work while Joachim Cooder quickly establishes his unique percussive gifts, which will become the backbone of the album. All this before the simple sounds of acoustic guitar form the melody beneath Scorzari’s raspy surprise of a voice. It’s as if someone left the back door open and Tom Waits stumbled in. However, the Waits reference is not entirely accurate. If Casey Affleck could sing after a bender, he would sound like Bill Scorzari.
In stark contrast to this sleepy, contemplative opener, “A Brand New Deal” is surprisingly upbeat with a strong bluegrass bent as fiddle, banjo (Kyle Tuttle) and acoustic guitar drive this comparatively robust country workout, Scorzari’s vocals stretching and fitting to the material. Yet nothing much can prepare you for “Shelter From The Wind” – an epic highlight that will instantly transform you into a hardcore fan. In addition to Scorzari’s acoustic guitar and earnest vocal, it’s guitarist Danny Roaman whose accompaniment on lead guitar haunts the track when it’s not seething, laser-deep and dangerous, against a backdrop of Cooder’s washes of military snare and rolling cymbals. Credit Cooder’s inventive percussive techniques, too, for the fat, fun groove of “Hound Dog Diggin’” – another instant favorite which mines the strengths of Scorzari’s poetic approach, transforming lyrics into rhythmic effect. Guitar lovers will gush at the unholy scrum between Roaman’s electric guitar, Brent Burke’s dobro, and Laur Joamets’ slide as this dog springs to life, aided by the breathy gasps of Marie Lewey.
And here comes another of those perfect songs: “More of your Love” is as intimate a conversation between lovers as has ever been had. More spoken than sung, Scorzari’s poetic charm strikes the bone to a backdrop of gentle acoustic guitar, simple percussion and the butter-softness of Annie Johnson’s backup vocal. Breathtakingly beautiful. The strummed acoustic guitar intro to “Holy Man” is deceptive, as Kim Richey, sweetly offsetting Scorzari’s most aggressive vocal on the disc (read that as “full bleed”) merely sets up Laur Joamets’ sinewy slide guitar as it winds its way through, and around, Cooder’s wall of cymbal crashes, military snares and colorful percussive fingerprint. The plaintive “She Don’t Care About Auld Lang Syne” positions Scorzari’s lonely, poetic outlook with little more than acoustic guitar and viola while “For When I didn’t See” bursts forth with Burke’s sturdy dobro in a gleeful country accompaniment of violin, banjo, acoustic guitar while Scorzari attacks the vocal confidently and in a way that makes even more of his smart wordplay. The sadder-than-sad “Loser At Heart” redefines how far down one can go as Scorzari’s delivery accentuates his words, spitting them out with utter disdain. Matt Murphy’s upright bass adds warmth as Roaman’s slide adds salt to the wound. The comparably confident “I Can Carry This” becomes yet another contender for raw beauty, Scorzari’s scratched rasp fitting the songs like so much shrunken laundry – no other voice would work. Jonah Tolchin’s lap steel joins Kimbrough’s B3 and miscellaneous acoustic guitars, together with Lewey and Walker’s soaring bed of backup vocals to forge a blissful, mesmerizing state of mind.
The last two tracks on Through These Waves serve as soothing balm, neutralizing all pain. “It’s Time” puts forward another surprisingly rich vocal as Scorzari inhabits the character, while gentle percussion melts into Jon Estes’ upright bass, a quiet squall of acoustic guitars and Scruggs’ ghostly steel guitar, completing the bleak landscape. “Riptide” passes like a dark grey dream sequence, its gentle guitar, standout percussion and little more ebbs and flows behind Scorzari’s weary, whisper-talk of a vocal. Like the aforementioned Affleck and the living tragedy that is Manchester By The Sea, “Riptide” conjures the pungent tang of salt air, the rhythmic monotony of the waves and, listening close, the scolding of a distant seagull.
Despite allusions to greyness, darkness and halftones, Bill Scorzari and crew paint a dramatic picture with a depth of musicianship that adds significant color to the singer’s seemingly monochromatic voice. The end result is a thoroughly uplifting experience that, given the care that’s been taken to graft the right music to the voice of a true poet, borders on the fully cinematic. Through These Waves is a life-changer.