Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pat LePoidevin: “American Fiction” (2013) CD Review

Canadian singer/songwriter Pat LePoidevin’s new album, American Fiction, is a collection of tales set in American towns. Each song is named after a town in the United States. As the title implies, these are invented tales, the songs acting basically like short stories, set in real locations. All of the tracks were written by Pat LePoidevin and Lewis Smith. The towns of these tales are not places that they’ve personally visited. Pat LePoidevin told me, via email, “I have been to many areas of the U.S. but we wanted to choose places that we have not been to, so that our creative output wasn't interrupted when working on stories within the towns.”

They did some research, but it was deliberately limited so that they would have the freedom to build on a few key details. LePoidevin says, “The names and physical geography of each town inspired the stories. The stories came after learning a bit about the historical background of each community.” And through that process, they create vivid images of the places. I’ve never been to any of the towns mentioned in these songs, but I have a strong sense of them through the stories these songs tell. Interestingly, they’re able to create such vivid images that you want to believe the tales, that you could easily believe they’d been raised in any one of these places. Often we get more truth from fiction, and such seems to be the case here.

This entire album is really good, but of course certain songs are stand-outs. For example, there is something very moving about “Shelby, MT.” It’s a gorgeous track, one of my favorites. And check out these lines from “Hayden Lake, ID”:  This house is only everything I’ve always dreamed about/The coat of arms and shattered mirrors hanging from its walls/We are the champions of something loveably profound/But a lonely guards stands and waits to hear all the rest of this town.” That song has a sweet vibe. I enjoyed getting immersed in these places, these fictions. Often, these songs give you the feel of a place by certain details of the location, but also it’s the characters they create that really bring these places alive. This album fits into the general realm of folk, as these are acoustic tunes, but with electric guitar, drums and bass (plus horns on certain tracks).

“Winter Park, CO”

The album opens with “Winter Park, CO,” a wonderful folk-pop tune with good vibes. The vocals might come across as a bit breathy, a bit affected at times on this track, but they totally work. This song has such a great feel about it. Plus, it has a small horn section. This song also makes interesting use of the violin. Winter Park, CO is a town near Boulder.

“Centralia, PA”

“Centralia, PA” has an interesting, almost hypnotic intro. The fact that the guitar part is repeated several times sets the tone, giving the sense of something ongoing, even a hint of danger. Centralia is now a ghost town, after a disaster left fires burning in the mines, and the song’s first line is, “I was born in the crosshairs of a fire underground.” There is a great intensity to this song. You can’t help but be drawn in. This is an excellent song, and a great character sketch, with lines like, “I was born in a small town/With denim on my back” and “My mother was a dancer/My father underground.”

“Hanna, WY”

“Hanna, WY” is a truly pretty, acoustic song. This one mentions specific things to give a sense of the place, making the town as much of a character as the people who populate the story of this song. For example, he sings, “The place where the mine fell through/It was 1903,” a reference to an explosion in June of 1903, which killed 169 miners. This song has a sweet nostalgic feel in lines like, “Let’s head to the old convenient store that’s turned into a bar/I’ll buy you a drink” and “We’ll head up the old airport way where we used to go walk on the runway.” That sweet vibe is helped by backing vocals by Babette Hayward (“You’re the one who bakes for the boys’ baseball games”). Hanna is a small town just north of route 80.

“Canby, OR”

I love the rhythm on the acoustic guitar at the beginning of “Canby, OR,” with the electric guitar lightly playing over it. This one tells the tale of a boy named Jack, whose father was a teacher. “This boy has a secret/It lies in his hands/The people all circle and circle around/This boy has a secret/It lies in his heart.” This song has a sort of haunting beauty to it. And I love when the horns come in toward the end, adding another layer to the story. There are some nice accents on the snare drum near the end as well. This is one of my favorite tracks. Canby is a town a little south of Portland. (This is one I’ve driven past many times, but I never stopped.)

“Caliente, CA”

“Caliente, CA” immediately creates a sense of the location with lines like “And see another building being built with more fake grass and a little tree.”  And then, “This is the town that’s barely holding on.” This is the second track to mention baseball. Is “And another baseball field has passed away” the saddest line? Perhaps it is, if you like baseball as much as I do. But I also love the repeated line, “And the photograph is set in time behind the glass downstairs.” I find the repetition of the line incredibly moving. Pat LePoidevin is something a master of structuring a song to grab at your emotions. Caliente is an unincorporated community in Kern County, California.

“Celebration, FL”

Celebration is basically a fake town in Florida, created as part of Disney World. Don’t think I’m a bastard, but I bloody hate Disney and everything it stands for, and the idea of a town being created as part of an amusement park is completely sick. Partly because of that, I absolutely love “Celebration, FL” which actually mentions Disney. The song is about a dejected clown “with a broken heart” who loses his job at Disney (“He lost his love and his home”). The clown plays on the name of the town in the lines, “Don’t celebrate this annual meeting/Don’t celebrate this annual affair.”  Just before the end, this song has an intense build as the steady pounding on the snare gets louder, more insistent. It has a dramatic feel, before then settling into a somewhat sad conclusion.

“Tracy, MO”

“Tracy, MO” is another of my favorites. I really dig this song, mainly because of the way the guitar and drums work together. It has something of a delightful, catchy vibe. I love the juxtaposition of that sound with the lines, “Victorian homes burn in the night/And the band starts off in the roadhouse hall/And the shotgun sounds bring the bandstand down.” Then toward the end, the song mentions the town’s name in these lines: “Tracy stands alone in the woods/Tracy’s lost between rivers and gold.” Tracy is at the western edge of Missouri, near the Platte River.

“Twilight Park, NY”

American Fiction concludes with “Twilight Park, NY,” which is a sort of lullaby, at least as stated in its lyrics - “Lullaby, love/Lay to rest, my town.” It also mentions the place in the line, “Wonder where they hide in Twilight Park.” The horns are absolutely wonderful, adding some bright tones to this sweet, mellow song. Twilight Park is a historic district in New York.

CD Track List                                                        

  1. Winter Park, CO
  2. Centralia, PA
  3. Hanna, WY
  4. Canby, OR
  5. Caliente, CA
  6. Shelby, MT
  7. Celebration, FL
  8. Tracy, MO
  9. Hayden Lake, ID
  10. Twilight Park, NY 


Musicians appearing on this CD include Pat LePoidevin on vocals and acoustic guitar, Lewis Smith on electric guitar, Christine McLauchlan on drums, Mark MacDonald on bass; Dylan Maddox on trumpet, Fenton Corey on trombone, and Ciera DeSilva on violin. Babette Hayward provides vocals on “Hanna, WY.” Diego Medina plays synth on “Centralia, PA.” The album was produced by Pat LePoidevin and Diego Medina.

American Fiction was released on August 27, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment