Monday, August 27, 2012

Guy Forsyth: "The Freedom To Fail" (2012) CD Review

Guy Forsyth's new CD, The Freedom To Fail, is a fairly positive album, with songs that contain some good messages while managing to refrain from straying into cheesy or superficial or preachy territory. That's a difficult line to walk, and Guy Forsyth succeeds.  Most of these songs are really good, and some of them you can sink into emotionally.  And one of these tracks, "The Things That Matter," is among my favorites of the year.

Guy Forsyth dips into various musical genres on this release. Sure, there's the blues. But there are also elements of folk ("Balance," "Old Time Man"), country ("The Hard Way," "Econoline"), rock and pop (particularly "Played Again"). There is also some good and interesting use of backing vocals on this album, like on the opening track. All songs but one are originals.

The album's title reminds me of the little vocal warm-up we did before performing Samuel Beckett's short plays (to put us in the right frame of mind): "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

"Red Dirt"

The Freedom To Fail opens with "Red Dirt," a cool bluesy tune, but with great gospel-like backing vocals that totally work with the song's theme. This song has a fun feel to it, with a wild (but short) instrumental section with fiddle and clarinet. I like that the lyrics first have to do with seeds, but then expand to raising a child, and then go further to adults, to all of us, with lines like, "Too much pride, and he won't pay attention/Too much money, and the soul grows thin/Too much faith, you can't see reason" and "Too little love makes it easy/Makes everything black and white."  This song has a great energy, and is an excellent opening track - it pulled me right in.

"Red Dirt" was written by Guy Forsyth and Mark Addison.

"Sink 'Em Low (The Holler)"

"Sink 'Em Low (The Holler)" is the one cover tune on this album. It's a song in the public domain, and is an interesting spiritual tune. It's performed basically a cappella, but with a strong percussive element, like chained feet stomping. It's a powerful effect, and the vocals are great ("Wammo" performs vocals on this one). It starts, "If you want to please your captain/Sink 'em low, boys/Raise 'em high/Sink 'em low, boys." And then, "I asked my captain/What'll be my fine, boy/He said if I don't hang you, I give you ninety-nine."

Bessie Jones has also recorded an excellent version of this song.

"The Things That Matter"

"The Things That Matter" is my favorite song from this album.  I completely love this song. For those of us who are getting older (which is, hey, all of us), this one will have a certain poignancy. As time passes, you realize which things are truly important in life.  Yes, it's a life-is-short song, even containing a reference to Robert Herrick's poem in the line "gather roses while you may." I know this is a song I'm going to return to often. It's beautiful and true. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I only want things that matter/I only want things that you can share/Don't give me diamond rings/All those so-called finer things/They don't matter when they are not there."  (It's that last line that really makes the chorus work for me.)  And the vocals have a sweetness to them.

"The Things That Matter" was written by Guy Forsyth and Brian David Keane.

"Can't Stop Dancing"

"Can't Stop Dancing" is a strange song that begins with a somewhat slow old-time European feel (think: man with a rose in his teeth, mysterious woman, stone streets). And then it kicks in like an insane disco song as performed by a voodoo gang on amphetamine (I love the horn).  The song then goes back to the main section, which has a certain gypsy vibe (with accordion). The second time it goes wild, it has almost an eerie, Halloween feel to it. This is an incredible song that for some reason makes me think of Santa Sangre.  I fucking love it.


"Balance" begins as a sweeter folk tune. He sings the first line a cappella: "Balance is a process of constant correction." It's weird, because in a way it has a positive feel (at least at the beginning), yet there is something really depressing about the lines, "You can't stop your heart from falling to pieces/Can't stop the lover from running away/And you can't change the world/You can't change the weather/The best you can do is to get through the day." Especially, "The best you can do is to get through the day," as there seems to be something sad and defeated in that. This is certainly one a lot of us can relate to.  Though those lines are sad, there still is something hopeful about this song. It's a really nice song.

"Balance" was written by Guy Forsyth and Matt Smith.

"Should Have Been Raining"

"Should Have Been Raining" is a blues song about how the weather didn't warn him that he was making a mistake when he broke up with a woman. He gives details of the scene, then sings, "Should have been raining/Should have hit me as I crossed into the street/But there was no cool wind blowing in my face/So easy to leave/Should have been raining/Raining fire down from the sky/Some catastrophe to warn me/More than one tear in your eye/Should have been raining/Should have been storming/Should have been pouring down on me."   The song then finds him returning to that place, and sees her now looking happy and looking into another man's eyes - and it's raining then. By the way, the instrumental section toward the end reminds me just a bit of "Layla." 

"Should Have Been Raining" was written by Guy Forsyth, Brian David Keane and Rachel Loy.

CD Track List
  1. Red Dirt
  2. The Hard Way
  3. Sink 'Em Low (The Holler)
  4. The Things That Matter
  5. Econoline
  6. Can't Stop Dancing
  7. Balance
  8. Thank You For My Hands
  9. Played Again
  10. Should Have Been Raining
  11. Old Time Man
  12. Home To Me

Guy Forsyth is on vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, ukulele, harmonica and mandolin. Joining him on this release are Jeff Botta on bass and vocals, and Nina Singh Botta on drums and vocals. Also performing on this release are Oliver Steck on keyboard, accordion, trumpet, vocals; Matt Smith on 12-string electric guitar and vocals; Sick on fiddle and toy piano; John Doyle on clarinet; Jon Dee Graham on steel guitar; Ed Friedland on bass guitar; David Webb on organ; and William "Wammo" Walker on vocals. (By the way, Jon Dee Graham released a new album just last month, Garage Sale.)

The Freedom To Fail is scheduled to be released on September 11, 2012 through Blue Corn Music.  This is his seventh album.

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