Saturday, July 01, 2006

Paul Burch, East to West, Bloodshot (8/15/06)

It's impossible to hear this without being frequently reminded of Bob Dylan in his Nashville Skyline phase... There's that same strain to be unforced and easygoing, as if to admit to any measure of doubt or sadness would amount to a cardinal sin.
--Richie Unterberger on
Blue Notes (2000)


East to West, Paul Burch's sixth full-length, is a toe-tapping platter that goes down like a cool glass of iced tea on a hot day. (Allow me to put in a plug for Tazo's tasty Sweet Orange Blossom.) I hear Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw on the faster numbers ("Montreal," "I Will Wait for You"). On the slower ones, I hear...Burch. No other precursors/analogues come to mind. He has his own voice, his own style. Smooth yet earthy, if you will.

But I think what Unterberger wrote about Blue Notes has some bearing here. In his All Music Guide review, he goes on to describe the album as "pleasant and tightly arranged" and "comfortable yet unchallenging." Not being familiar with that release, it seems to me that East to West is a more personal effort. Unterberger's words have some application, yet I suspect Burch is digging deeper this time. And I should note that BBC London proclaimed Blue Notes, "A big contender for album of the year." The AP added, "Excellent!"

The last Bloodshot release I wrote about was one-man band Scott H. Biram's gritty Graveyard Shift, which I liked. East to West, the product of over a dozen musicians (including the WPA Ballclub), is pretty much its polar opposite. It's tasteful where Graveyard was--gleefully--tasteless, but I like it, too. A mite middlebrow I suppose, but never slick. Whether this says something about the diversity of my taste or the breadth of Bloodshot's roster, I couldn't say. (East to West is Burch's second CD for the Chicago indie after two for Checkered Past and two for Merge.)

If I were to discuss demographics, however, I'd imagine that East to West could possibly appeal to a wider/older audience. And I don't mean that as a diss. We all age after all--unless we die before we get old--so why is that sort of observation always perceived as criticism? What I'm suggesting is that my mom, not a close-minded individual by any means, would probably take to it more than the punky Graveyard, just as she'll probably enjoy Robert Altman's folksy elegy A Prairie Home Companion better than grim thriller 13/Tzameti (to name two recent films that couldn't have less in common).

Or, to put it another way, if a gal were to take Biram home to meet her mom, I think she'd be a little...concerned. If that same gal brought Burch instead, I think mom would be right pleased.

East to West was recorded in Burch's adopted Nashville and at Mark Knopfler's London studio, and the guitarist appears on "Before the Bells." A few months ago, I picked up Phil Lynott's Solo in Soho (1980), which also features Knopfler, but doesn't quite work. Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits are two tastes that don't go together. Burch and Knopfler, on the other hand, is a combination that makes sense. The album also features appearances from Kelly Hogan and Bluegrass Hall of Famer Ralph Stanley.

Lastly, I should mention that David Cronenberg appears in Burch's list of thank-yous. I wasn't sure why, so I took a trip over to Burch's website where I found that his "Life of a Fool" appears in A History of Violence, one of my favorite films of 2005. Nice!


If you have ever listened to Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline and loved it, or wondered why Dylan never again made such a beautifully romantic and simple Paul Burch! Paul begins where Dylan left off, and he does it effortlessly.
-- Aubrey, New York (BBC reader comment)

Note: Images courtesy Merge Records and Pure Music. For more information, please visit the official Paul Burch website.

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