Sunday, June 22, 2014

Peter Himmelman: “The Boat That Carries Us” (2014) CD Review

Peter Himmelman’s new album, The Boat That Carries Us, features an excellent group of original songs. Peter Himmelman is such a talented songwriter. Check out these lyrics from “Tuck It Away”: “Baby, don’t you open your heart now/Don’t want to know about the things you’ve done/The secrets you’re concealing/Have got the power of a loaded gun.” He has some likewise talented musicians backing him on this CD, including Lee Sklar on bass and Jim Keltner on drums. Both are fantastic studio musicians – Sklar has played with Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor; Keltner has played with John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson. You really can't go wrong with those guys. But for me it's the songwriting that makes this CD one of the best of the year.

The Boat That Carries Us opens with its title track – a soft, thoughtful acoustic tune. This is a deliciously mellow folk song with a positive feel, with lines like: “Though the current’s strong, it can’t break our will/Tossed about, we lose no hope/Held fast above by heaven’s rope.” His delivery has a sweet, personal tone. And I love this line: “The darkest sky gives way to dawn.” This feels like a song that could someday be thought of as “traditional.” It fits well into that realm. I could see this song being played around camp fires, as well as sung to loved ones.

He follows that with “Afraid To Lose,” a full band tune in the same realm as the best of what Bruce Springsteen recorded in the 1970s, with that kind of urgency and energy, and vibrant descriptions. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Fighting back the pain that comes in the final mile/Can you recognize us – we’re the ones pulling out ahead/Passing time, making plans, and warding off the dread.” And the line “So afraid to lose what we were each too afraid to win” helps make this track one of my favorites.

I love the lyrics to “Green Mexican Dreams.” It features lines like, “There’s a nylon-string guitar ringing out in pain” and “Every star is a talon, every planet is a claw,” and phrases like “restless poems,” “not a whisper on its surface” and “moon is despotic.” Plus, this song has a darker tone that I love. It creates a compelling atmosphere, and there is a sense of urgency as well. Basically, it’s an excellent song. The first time I put on this disc, this is the song that made me start thinking of my list of the best albums of 2014.

“For Wednesday At 7 PM (I Apologize)” is a fun song with a good groove and nice work on keys. The song is a series of apologies, which seem to come from a man to a woman (“for singing too loud, for being indiscreet”). But then at times it strikes me as coming from a god to humanity, and I love the thought of a god apologizing – with lines like “I apologize for the tidal wave/And for the heart of man that could never be brave/And for every patient that the doctors couldn’t save.” Then lines like “I apologize for talking too much/For saying too little, for being out of touch/For letting you down in the clutch” could go either way.

“Mercy On The Desolate Road” begins like an earnest prayer, with lines like “Lord, bless the least of us/Overlook the beast in us” and “Lord, fill the need in us/Overlook the greed in us/Give us twenty times more than we are owed.” This is a wonderful and very human song that feels both personal and universal. He then brings it all down to a road, which works as metaphor for the idea of life’s journey, but also feels like a specific and real place. And his late-night travels along this road are what bring to mind these thoughts and prayers. It’s a song of weaknesses and strengths, and of hope.

“Double Time Sugar Pain” is a pretty song, mostly piano and vocals, and reminds me a bit of Randy Newman, back when Newman was cool, before Disney bought his soul. “I had a reason/Yes, I had a reason.” This song features a string arrangement by Eric Gorfain. “I’m on knees over you.”

Peter Himmelman then picks up the energy and pace with the rockin’ “Angels Die,” with a great rhythm on drums. That doesn’t mean he’s neglecting the lyrics, of course. “Say you’ve got an answer, lie if you must/All we got is a stalemate and a river of rust.”

The Boat That Carries Us concludes with “Hotter Brighter Sun,” a cool folk tune with a positive, uplifting energy, and with hints of gospel, particularly in the song’s title line. As the album began, it ends with a song that could be one day in that realm of traditional tunes. “Up where lovers’ voices carry/There burns a hotter brighter sun/Ever toward that light every limb does grow.”

CD Track List

  1. The Boat That Carries Us
  2. Afraid To Lose
  3. Green Mexican Dreams
  4. For Wednesday At 7 PM (I Apologize)
  5. 33K Feet
  6. Never Got Left Behind
  7. Mercy On The Desolate Road
  8. In The Hour Of Ebbing Light
  9. Double Time Sugar Pain
  10. Angels Die
  11. Tuck It Away
  12. That’s What It Looks Like To Me
  13. Hotter Brighter Sun 


Peter Himmelman performs the vocals, as well as plays guitar and piano. Joining him on this album are Jim Keltner on drums, Lee Sklar on bass, David Steele on guitar, and Will Gramling on keys.
The Boat That Carries Us is scheduled to be released on July 15, 2014.

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