Wes Burdine and the Librarians (Wednesday, February 16th, 2005,
Uptown Bar, Minneapolis)
Though his ambitious debut full-length album, This Is How I Discovered Gold came out last year, Wes Burdine was a totally new discovery for me just this past week. After an email of introduction the day before his show Wednesday at the Uptown Bar, I took a listen to the MP3’s on his website and was immediately hooked by his well-crafted, thought-provoking songs.
Early in Burdine’s set came the title song and opening track of his CD. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because it has a bit of the feel of Fastball’s 1998 hit “The Way” in the chord progression of its verses; but that’s about where the comparison ends. The structure and tempo of the song are fitting for the tale of a metaphoric journey and lend themselves well to the feeling of plodding along.
Up next was the song “A Sense of Duty” which starts out with gentle down-strummed acoustic guitar, and the lyric “I touched my forehead to feel the ash there.” (I encourage you to go read the rest of the lyrics on his website.) I can only make guesses about the possible spiritual underpinnings to this song as “Ash Wednesday,” which is referred to here, is the actual title of a song later on the disk. “A Sense of Duty” seems an incantation or decree as much as a song when Burdine sings “I declare a death to war and guns and bombs. (Maybe our prayers will be real by then.)” But despite the “oh no, not another sappy folk singer” alarm bells that may be ringing in your head, in Burdine’s hands, these words come off no hokier than U2’s “New Year’s Day.” The chorus hits you and sticks, a bit like the chorus to Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain.”
Burdine announced a new EP (The Jose Canseco EP) is in the works, expected in March, and that the next song, the mid-paced ballad "Prospects” will be on it.
The next song was a slowcore highlight. With the seemingly pretentious title “A Postcard from John Lennon,” it again comes off as anything but. It’s clear from this song alone, that Burdine’s lyrics and the way he weaves them together with melody is the work of someone with good understanding of the art of songwriting. A rhyme scheme is there, but it's subtle, appropriate, and never seems forced like the lyrics of pop songs often do.
Speaking of the words, though I enjoyed the album the first time through, I don’t think I appreciated it fully until my 5th listen when I read the lyrics as the songs played. One song that stood out lyrically was the song “Drawing on the Wall,” which reminded me of Ben Watt’s songwriting for Everything But The Girl. I still haven’t pinned down what it’s about. (A love relationship between a photographer and an institutionalized artist maybe?) But the point is these songs are worthy of serious attentiveness; the imagery is vivid and poetic, and your mind will start filling in stories of its own if the intended one isn’t clear. Lines like “You said, ‘It’s always better if you don't say a thing.’ You always said you'd ‘not say good-bye.’ I'm just waiting for hello again” can break your heart a little if they catch you off guard, like much of this album does.
Taking as a whole, “This Is How I Discovered Gold” is nothing like what you might expect it to be when you first pop it into your CD player. There’s a surreal breakpoint about halfway through when Burdine covers the crooner standard “Can’t Help Falling In Love” while a mournful droning lingers in the background, and sounds piped in at the end or the song are reminiscent of the moans of dying cows that open up the song "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. It’s not hard to see that this might be disturbing in the context of songs about peace, growing up, and self-study, let alone occurring in the background of this classic love song. The album then plows into “First Loves,” a far from sentimental, haunting backwards look at adolescence. Then comes a post-modernist-titled four section song of ending and acceptance? “The End Pt. 1, 2, 3 and 4.” On “Ash Wednesday” the sound of a needle stuck in the final groove of a record on a vintage phonograph is heard throughout in the background only to return again at the very end of the album
But back to Wednesday’s show, “Come Home,” the extended closing song of the disk was played next. Country-ish and re-assuring, even if there’s still a profound sense of longing in the song, there seems to be at least a smidgen of hope that the person being asked to “come home” just might. Charissa Freeman provided lovely harmonies on this and other songs from her seat behind the keyboard.
The next few songs “Dirt,” and “In the End” were new, and Burdine really picked up the pace, rocking out rather intensely for the first time all night. He admitted later in an email, “By the end of that set I had to bend over and catch my breath and was ready to fall over--I've never out-rocked myself before.”
Drummer David Osborne, though he had called himself banter-challenged earlier in the evening, announced, “The human body can stand more rock than people give it credit for” as the band began its second to last number, a bouncy song called “Skin” which featured Burdine singing in a nicely done falsetto at times.
Burdine dedicated the band’s final song Burdine to their favorite steroid using baseball player, “Jose Canseco.” I didn't catch all the words, but considering the thematic quality of “This is How I Discovered Gold,” I’m looking forward to the Jose Canseco EP. And I expect you'll be hearing a lot more about Wes Burdine soon.
David de Young is email@example.com