I’m not sure what I expected Charles de Lint to sound like as a singer. Whatever it was I expected, it wasn’t what I got.
We’re calling Old Blue Truck folk/trad-singer/songwriter music, and I suppose that’s as good a description as any. There are echoes of all sorts of things, if not actual influences. The opening cut, “Bobby & Me,” reminded me for some reason of Lou Reed — the delivery, I think, more than anything else. De Lint is certainly the better singer, his voice a throaty growl that sometimes smooths out but never loses that rough edge. It’s an up-tempo rockabilly sort of song that’s marked by a lot of excellent playing. “Cherokee Girl” features some fluid guitar lines over a nicely syncopated rhythm that drives the song beautifully.
The title track shows de Lint’s strength as a storyteller — as if we needed reminding, but he does it in songs, too. It’s a tremendously evocative song, deceptively light-hearted, at least musically, until you register on the lyrics.
“Great Big Moon” will have you in tears. Quiet, reflective, de Lint’s gravel voice pulls in a lot of subtle power in a song about the end of a romance that is one of the few in that category that I’ve heard that sounds like it was penned by an adult. It’s pretty devastating.
“Medicine Road” has a distinct southwestern feel, and happily, from my point of view, de Lint begins to cut loose a bit, although one gets the sense that he’s not willing to really let go. MaryAnn Harris’ back-up is deft and right on point.
Those are just four highlights from a disc that has ten of them. De Lint started off as a musician, as did his wife, MaryAnn Harris, who is present on back-up vocals here, and always fits perfectly into the song. Her voice ranges from light and clear to smoky, almost a whisper. The rest of the musicians are of equal caliber — this is a marvelously cohesive performance all the way through. The songs themselves skirt the edges of the expected without every quite crossing that line — although firmly in the mold of contemporary folk/rock, there’s always a surprise or two, no matter how much the song might start off sounding like something you’ve heard before.
My one complaint, and I’m willing to admit quite freely that it’s personal preference, is that I could wish de Lint would really cut loose on a couple of these songs — they deserve it. (It may be the limits of his voice — in the few places where it starts to look like he’s going to do it, there is some evidence of strain.)
I’m starting to think it’s one of the misfortunes of my life that I’ve never had the opportunity to hear de Lint live. I’ve been a fan of his books for years, and hope, with the release of this CD (which apparently is the result of an ongoing campaign by any number of people to get him to actually do it), that his reputation expands beyond those live venues that he’s worked in.
The CD package does not contain lyrics, but they’re available, along with sample tracks, at de Lint’s Web site.
(SOCAN/Tamson House Records, 2011) Charles de Lint: vocals, guitar, harmonica; MaryAnn Harris: vocals, mandolin, percussion; Brock Zeman: guitar, bass, percussion, vocals; Blair Hogan: electric & acoustic guitars, organ, mandolin; Greg T. Brown: fiddle; Alistair Dennett: drums, bodhran; Steve Foley: drums; John Law: slide guitar, mandolin; Charlie Somer: banjo.