I intended to start this entry with an apology to Guy Forsyth. After hearing his new album and catching his CD release show last Saturday, I thought about what I wrote last year. I felt I had viewed his show through harsh, shallow eyes and had missed the point entirely. Upon reflection, that isn't true. What I saw and wrote last year was exactly what I saw and felt. But as Guy says in his new song, "Balance is a process of constant correction." And that's exactly right. Guy walks a not so fine line between a vaudevillian caricature and seriously talented musician. On Saturday night, he hadn't left his love of vaudeville wardrobes behind, but the balance between the act and the talent was clean.
This month Guy released his first studio album in seven years. The Freedom to Fail is Guy's acoustic roots rock at its finest, with plenty of the experimental sounds for which he is famous. It's opener, Red Dirt, has almost gospel like harmonies. The Hard Way name checks the likes of Tom Waits and Bob Marley. Econoline is an old Guy Forsyth staple reworked for this album. Both are driving rock anthems. Sink 'Em Low puts you on a chain gang. Old Time Man is shades of bluegrass. Thank You For My Hands, Can't Stop Dancing and Home to Me are new and interesting. Balance is profound, written by Guy and the record's producer, Matthew Smith.
All that said, my favorite songs on this album are his collaborations with Brian Keane. Brian is a solidly talented, country-oriented performer; his songwriting is clean and often witty. The Things That Matter is a beautiful ballad written when Brian and Guy happened to find themselves together as they received news of Steve Bruton's death a few years ago. The newer Guy and Brian collaborations, It Should Have Been Raining (also written with Rachel Loy) and Played Again (also written with Wammo) take Guy's music and vocals into new territory - after a few listens I decided these two songs had an Elvis Costello vibe that I really like.
The CD release show opened with Guy, his harmonica, and 105, an oldie but goody. Throughout the night he blended his oldies with selections from the new album. The "saw" was back for Summertime. I particularly enjoyed rediscovering Children of Jack. His core band included Nina Singh on drums and Jeff Botta on bass. As the night progressed, he brought out Matthew Smith on guitar and assorted stringed instruments, his old Asylum Street Spanker alum Sick on the fiddle, and Adoniram Lipton on keys.
Sitting in the front row and to the right side of the stage, my first easy views were of rhythm duo Nina and Jeff. They were immensely entertaining to watch as they clearly felt free to cut loose with their craft. When Sick took the stage directly in front of me with his fiddle, I was irrevocably captivated. Dressed as a vaudevillian bad boy, with a curled moustache and black eyes, he plied his fiddle in a maniacal fashion. His villianous vibe eased with the shedding of first his coat, then his tie: ah so, it wasn't Spring-Heeled Jack come to steal my soul and virtue with his singing fiddle. (Or was it? Neither have been seen since that night. Hmmm......)
Front and center was Guy, with those incrediby talented hands and his unbelievably versatile and facile vocals. Yes, watching him perform is still like watching a lost episode of Carnivale. But that's okay. You see, these days Guy has found a balance of poetry and costuming, singing and acting, symbolism and sincerity. And it's a beautiful thing for the listener.
Children of Jack