Music Writing by Carson Arnold


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There's a party goin' on somewhere. A happening that you're not part of. You're un-invited, and the million songs cry along. "Across The Universe", "Losing My Religion", "In Dreams"-- these are all monumental sagas flung from the deprived funnel of merely existing. But then there's the other song, that crazy reverse, tethered in a world of delight, exotics, and love carnival, blended even if it isn't. The jelly of T-Rex, the waves of Donovan, all thrilled to be living as though some infinite chess game of Edward Lear. San Fransisco especially has always been the town to resonate these rings, beaming of a new moon, focusing music so far behind the rest of the world that it was almost staring them in the back. What can I say? It was on my doorstep Alex Walsh's album came a-singing Light Another Candle. The package had journeyed from some apartment in Frisco, a line at the bottom reading: "Here's my CD, Carson. Thanks!" Opening it up and meeting what would be Alex Walsh resting on a couch-- harmonicas near a lamp, guitar in hand-- I wondered what sort of image the postal clerks had envisioned when coming across it. Who's trapped inside? Mine was foolish. I thought, "Well here we go again, another songwriter with the same story to tell like the one before him. It's gonna be crap. Gonna be pop junk. Gonna make me sadder than I already am." Thus it sat for weeks, its red bonnet of a cover glancing up silently, the song titles: "Fade Away", "Lusty Lady", "Liquid Feeling": exhausting me...That is, until I threw it on.


(And you'll need sun glasses...) No album smiles brighter than Light Another Candle: those divine, happy tales. It's like climbing a hill into the punch of all sound and descent possible-- the entire album, one orbit of growing, peeling heart. I'll find myself asking, "Who is this woman he loves here? Is she alive? Do we know her?" The envelope of human desire and music is fully naked here, fully mink, and fully consistent, even in the last track where Walsh drowns in what sounded like to me a Cuban-salsa hijack into the balloons of Bob Weir. Oh my god, what am I listening to?! None but the opening track-- "Purple Apple Gum"-- Walsh's guitar lumbering into the drive-- dum-dum-dum-dum--  ultra-fuzzed, cutting through all the block bullshit of how to "start", no reducing, only levitating. Soon it crouches into side-paths of cool rhythm jangle (pews of cymbals, even if they aren't, seem to be everywhere). It now vibrates like the best wizardry you ever heard off the PVC label; a charming lick of notes begin, his voice (and a mouth in a perpetual smile, no doubt) unison to this first line: You and me together and nothing lasts forever. It sorta sips back the word "groovy" into play. Almost always, his verses extend from some twilight romance caught in the crossfire of reality, protocol, and session. Sometimes I never know what he's saying, it just feels right, sounds beautiful, and keeps going.


I too bat hints of Elvis Costello that others have apparently assimilated him with. However, Elvis, let's face it-- c'mon-- is disgruntle, and subsequently drawn more inward and inward to a state of demise, even if he chronically rocks. Instead, Walsh's attitude is of a more beloved serendipity, that, even if he never wins the ace of popularity, will still be sailing the same phrases of primordial lyric. His voice moves as though out-of-sight with stunning rebounds of Beatles-esque orchestration (guided and co-written by poet 'n songster Michael Rothenberg, whose suction seems to span coast-to-coast). What hunts ya down are the tom-tom's here (yeah, I'm still on the first song)-- it's like Steely Dan sprayed with pink paint-- moments later a triumphant chorus: never growin' tired of YOU: slurred, the rolling guitar still kicking-- Walsh now surprised how blush he plays rock 'n roll pop, glowing in the vast robbery he's just illustrated. It throttles on with "I Can See You Anywhere"-- voices panned ear-to-ear-- husky, altering, shaking-- keyboards are not even keyboards-- IT'S CRAZY! And that's the spark of the record; an aquarium production of echo that shadow his fingers through tart harmonies and heavens of 80's synth, folk-rock, and the overall song-fantasy of melodic, color revival. Marc Bolan lives!! As does every boy and girl. Seriously, though, that whole dancin'-out-of-the-womb Bolan bag of trickery are a deck of wild cards with Walsh's un-hesitant force here. There's an aspect of magician, where he seems to be ample enough to tackle just about any genre given (which I hope doesn't sober), uncovered in songs like "You'll Come Back To Me", where a shu-bop of music and instrumental dimension (which I usually hate, mind you) delivers choirs of appetizing ocean-tone. Very much reminiscent to Julian Cope's pop taj-mahal (often drifting into Dylan's new-found boogie-rubber band, too), the bends of Frisco are indeed visible in cuts like "Liquid Feeling" with Walsh's cascading sun-scapes of passion, if not trippy, tabla lyric-haze...You choose the moment. I myself can't help but imagine rolling through the Golden Gate Bridge with this cranked-- staring out into the bluff of Alcatraz--- down the street-car trolley-- early mornings at Coit Tower-- outward. Not a whip of defiance jacks this record-- Walsh is of a new breed of "bungalow rockers" that rain, rain, rain the day wide.


Whoa! just realized something else-- it's vividly similar to George Harrison's buzzing All Things Must Pass, and probably the closest attempts to this rich clef of performing that I can admire since Harrison's promise. What contrasts them abreast is the "adore" of everything they both pursue-- even if showing signs of weakness, it would thus allow them (Alex) to bloom forth dozens of other indirect creations-- a distorted guitar, a freaky organ that we'd forever render with-- a heavy altitude. Although his style is, Walsh ain't your typical fly at the song-trof (involving Rothenberg and other links to poetry-- such as verses of Philip Whalen on an earlier disc-- are good hints). He acknowledges to me that his prior recordings, featuring many of Candle's cuts, have been a rough yarn of demos-- all hot dunes leading to this initial peak-- embodied after a series of critical mental breakdowns and musical celibacy during the mid-90's while trotting as a playwright. Light Another Candle sneaks the earth of a sentimental spirit to the rhino of a vast, musical, if you may (yes you may) tangerine. It's as though he reached a point, possibly one hell of an evening jam with friends-- maybe even after rehearsing that roaring opening-- where it was either: tinker around to solicit-- or-- shatter it all with kewl-luv, break on through, the whole sha-bang, the 60's, the 70's, notably the 80's, guitars, BIG vocals, John Lennon on my wall!! and wherever I was in the 90's falling madly in love, inhaling. What's amusing about Walsh, is first, the subsistence of production with not a jesus of insecurity, and second, the partial nonsense of his lyrics and musical fooling, that in ways, by not clarifying its direction, exposes the great mystery of life...Hah! what a pretentious dolt I am. The album rules. Listen! And may you return humming Alex Walsh.

-- Carson Arnold October 5, 2003


copyright 2003 Carson Arnold

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H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews and articles written by Carson Arnold. As an independent writer and musician living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at [email protected]

Thanks and enjoy!

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