Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sven Curth: “People Never Seem To Amaze Me” (2017) CD Review

People Never Seem To Amaze Me, the new release from Sven Curth, is an excellent album mixing folk, country, rock, bluegrass and other styles, sometimes tackling serious subjects but doing so with a sense of humor and a largely friendly vibe. These tracks feature a lot of seriously good lyrics, lines that stood out to me the first time I popped in this disc, like these from “Better Off Alone”: “No matter what I try, I keep on getting it all wrong/But as long as I stay pessimistic, I'll always be pleasantly surprised.” Oh yes, that sounds just about right. By the way, this really is a solo album, for in addition to writing all the tracks, Sven Curth plays all the instruments on every track (with one exception). Sven Curth is based in Lake Placid, New York.  This is his third solo release, and it’s one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

The album opens with “Get Out,” a playful tune about being a stranger when traveling, and not liking strangers when at home. The chorus has a country swing feel, which I totally dig. “They say, ‘Get out, I don't like strangers/You don't look like me, you don't talk like me/You don't come from where I'm from/Ain't no doubt, your life's in danger/Get on out the same way you got here, and go back where you belong.’” Yes, it’s that old message about treating folks the way you yourself want to be treated, but delivered with humor, particularly in relation to the use of guns.  So, from here on out when some funny-looking stranger comes to town/I'll resist the urge to shoot him, and turn my frown upside down/Of course, it's all for selfish reasons that I'll be acting so nice and sweet/So as when I travel someplace else those folks won’t shoot at me.” And, well, it seems we need to be reminded of this lesson again. This song gets in one last laugh at the end.

“You Don’t Walk Alone” has something of a classic sound, and is one of my favorites. This song offers a shoulder to lean on, but no solutions, and often that’s what people need – just to know they’re not alone. Check out these lines: “When you come out of the shadows/And when you weather the storm/You may have lost a few battles/But you're in good fighting form/Maybe you tested your courage/Maybe you sank like a stone/As long as I'm breathing/You don't walk alone.”  And I really like that lead guitar section, over the simplest drum beat. This song works so well, and each time I listen to this disc, I appreciate this song even more. “You may feel like no one out there cares at all/But this is me saying I do.” “You Don’t Walk Alone” is followed by “It’s Our Last Night To Get Drunk,” a playful but honest song with bluegrass elements and an Irish folk feel (and I’m not saying that just because it’s about drinking, so quit stereotyping). It opens with this line: “It’s our last night to get drunk, our last night to get drunk, our last night to get drunk ‘til tomorrow.” Here Sven is joined by Lowell Bailey on mandolin and Ichabod Gunn on accordion. This is the only track to feature any musicians other than Sven, and there is a nice instrumental section with the mandolin taking a prominent role. This track also features an excellent vocal performance, and some wonderful lyrics. “But I make no excuse for the shape that I'm in/I may one day give out, but I’ll never give in.”

We don’t always fall for the right person, but most of us don’t get it quite as wrong as the fellow in “She May Be Fat But She’s Definitely Crazy,” an absolutely delightful song with a fast-paced bluegrass chorus.  Well, she may be fat but she's definitely crazy/She's a big old, batshit, wild and wacky lady/You can't hold her down, you can't fill her up/No matter what you've got, she can't get enough/She's got a real mean tooth and a deep sweet streak/She's got a sunny disposition once or twice a week/She's a whole lotta trouble, and the trouble is she’s mine.” I love this tune, with some delicious work on banjo. And check out that guitar-playing at the end! If you’re looking for a fun tune, you should definitely check out this song. That’s followed by “What A Day To Be Alive,” which features more good work on banjo and some sweet vibes. This one has both folk and pop elements. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I often wonder how the people 'round me seem to know exactly where to turn/I've got no answers, only questions, the more I know the more I know I have to learn/Some days my doubts command the upper hand and leave me laying helpless in a hole/Some days it's all too clear: my doubts and fears are mainly what support my self-control.” Have I mentioned how good this album’s lyrics are? “I went to bed last night not feeling right, my mind consumed with worries of the day/The more desperate I am for sleep, the more the chances of its coming slip away.

Another of this disc’s highlights is “I’m Getting Old,” with these opening lines: “I'm getting old, and that's okay/In spite of my objections, I keep waking up each day/One day I won't, and that's okay too/At least I will have spent a couple of sunny days with you.” It has a great folk feel at the start, and then it takes a surprising turn early on, turning serious with a spoken word section, and that section ends up being the main part of the track. “And we're pointing our fingers, we're boiling with rage/But don't the Chinese deserve a living wage?/They're building us exactly what we require/The affordable garbage that we so desire/And we'll use it twice and then throw it away/It'll end up in the ocean, or just trucked away to be buried somewhere/Out of sight and out of mind/Gotta make some more room, so that we can keep buying.” At the end, it returns to that opening folk vibe, and boy, it certainly has a different feel this second time around, following as it does that spoken word section – an interesting effect. “What If All You Are Is…?” seems to perfectly capture and reflect the current state of humanity. It would be depressing if it weren’t delivered with bluegrass flair. The album then concludes with “The Trouble With Earth Is The Humans,” another song about the sad state of humanity. “What do you do when you wake up each day and you don't like the person you are/And you don't like your family, and you don't like your friends/And you're bored with your house and your car/And you're sick of your country, but you hate all the others.” Like “I’m Getting Old,” this one also has a spoken word section offering a different perspective. “And what a ludicrous joke it is to obsessively engage in the pursuit and maintenance of such mundane trivia when we are such fleeting participants in a such a wildly enormous cosmos.”

CD Track List
  1. Get Out
  2. You Don’t Walk Alone
  3. It’s Our Last Night To Get Drunk
  4. Better Off Alone
  5. She May Be Fat But She’s Definitely Crazy
  6. What A Day To Be Alive
  7. GDM (Goddammit Margarete)
  8. I’m Getting Old
  9. Of Weddings
  10. I Don’t Like You
  11. What If All You Are Is…?
  12. The Trouble With Earth Is The Humans
People Never Seem To Amaze Me was released on May 24, 2017.