Sunday, May 11, 2014

Melissa Payne: “High And Dry” (2014) CD Review

There seems to be a great amount of excellent music coming out of Ontario these days. Melissa Payne, who plays fiddle in Express & Company, is releasing her second full-length solo album, High And Dry. The album is definitely singer-songwriter at its core, which is great. But Melissa Payne has a full band, and there is some power here as well. This band can create a driving rhythm and really go for it, like on the beautiful and moving “Bring Me Back.” When they do, it never feels like unnecessary additions to a folk song. But rather the band feels an integral part of these songs. When a song calls for quiet, you have it; when it calls for volume and power, then those are there, like on “Gunning For Me.” But these tracks never lose their sense of intimacy.

High And Dry kicks off with title track. I love the way this song begins, with a simple rhythm on acoustic guitar, and then Melissa’s glorious vocals over it. “Well, I got lost,” she sings. There’s a sweet, vulnerable break in her voice at one moment (“You got nerve to tell me how it is”). Then a minute into the song, it jumps to another level, as the band comes in. The song has a good groove. I particularly love her vocals on the chorus. “When it all goes south you’ll be high and dry/When it all goes south, you’ll be by my side/And I’ll be high and dry.” And I dig the work on keys. This a really strong track to open the album.

“Not The Only One” has a mellower, prettier vibe. For some reason the first line strikes me as funny: “Well, you don’t like the way I play guitar.” It’s interesting – Melissa’s voice can be simultaneously weary and powerful, reminding me here of Marshall Chapman. Melissa’s is a voice that makes you feel for her, but also makes you feel she can handle whatever comes her way. By the way, the first line of the second verse also strikes me as humorous: “You don’t like the way that I drink.”

“Call Me The Fool” is absolutely beautiful. I’m pulled in immediately by its use of a somewhat classical sound on fiddle, which comes as a surprise. There is something wonderfully sad about this song’s tone. It has kind of a late-night feel. “I’m a believer and a dreamer at best/Torn up inside and I could, could use a rest/Give me some rest.” This is one of my personal favorites on this album.

“Kitchen Walls” opens with a burst of pop (sounding almost like an element of prog rock), then becomes an interesting quick-paced country song. “There’s a lot of different people that are talking about me/But don’t believe everyone/Well, who do you believe/My soul is catching fire right beneath my feet/I hear the darkness coming/I can feel the heat.” And I love the short lead section on fiddle toward the end.

“Downtown” begins with vocals and keys, feeling like a late-night number. “And I’ve been standing here for days/Just waiting on some kind of change/But I’ve had no luck to speak of.”

“Gunning For Me” has great energy, and a good driving beat. It has an intense vibe, like the song is running, moving just as its narrator is, which pulls you in so that the song feels like it’s happening to you. Plus, there are some excellent lyrics. I love these lines: “Had a couple of jobs, and once a career/But they shine a light on all of my fears.” This is a seriously good song. “I ain’t got no home/I hide in the night.”

Things then quiet down for “Cold Out There,” another of my favorite tracks. The opening lines are, “Well, I don’t need your attention/And I don’t need your concern/I hope you find the life you’re after/I hope you get what you deserve.” This is a wonderful song, driven by Melissa's voice, which has both strength and a vulnerability. "I don't want to ruin your life/You're doing so well on your own."

CD Track List

  1. High And Dry
  2. Not The Only One
  3. Call Me A Fool
  4. Bring Me Back
  5. Cool West Wind
  6. Kitchen Walls
  7. Downtown
  8. Gunning For Me
  9. Cold Out There

High And Dry was produced by Greg Keelor, and is scheduled to be released on May 13, 2014 through Seventh Fire Records.

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