Monday, June 5, 2023

The Salt Collective: “Life” (2023) CD Review

The band Salt put out its first album in 2019. Titled The Loneliness Of Clouds, it featured all original material. The three core members of the band then decided to do something different on their next album. Stéphane Schück, Fred Quentin and Benoit Lautridou created instrumental numbers, and then handed the material off to other songwriters to compose lyrics and melodies. One of those songwriters is Chris Stamey, who, as far as I can tell from the amount of projects he’s involved in, must never sleep. He co-wrote seven of the album’s twelve tracks, sings on eight of them, produced the album, and wrote some of the liner notes. And, as I’m sure you’re wondering, yes, Peter Holsapple is involved in this project too, singing on several tracks and co-writing one of them. In addition to those two, these tracks feature the work of Matthew Caws, Juliana Hatfield, Faith Jones, Matthew Sweet, Susan Cowsill, as well as the other members of The dBs and others.

The album opens with “Asylum,” which was written by Stéphane Schück and Matthew Caws. Caws sings lead, and Juliana Hatfield provides backing vocals (the two have worked together as Minor Alps), while Faith Jones does the opening spoken word part. It has been a mad and maddening time in this country, and the world, and sometimes it feels like we’re all searching for asylum. Well, this song might provide a bit of help. “Find the peace in knowing what exactly you cannot outrun/We will deal, go by feel, case by case, one by one/I found asylum (this hillside)/Miles and miles of/In silent prayer to no one real/I drop my cares and roll like a wheel.” Gene Holder plays bass on this track. That’s followed by “Where The Wild Things Are,” the first of the album’s tracks co-written by Chris Stamey, who provides backing vocals. Juliana Hatfield sings lead on this one. This song is an immediate favorite of mine, a delicious rock song featuring some good work on guitar. Richard Lloyd plays guitar on this track. “To live a life far away from this/And never think of all the things we’ve missed/To travel far/To where the wild things are.” Is Where The Wild Things Are the best book ever written for children? Certainly a case can be made for it. This song also contains a Shakespeare reference in the lines, “I want to go where the wild things are/To disappear into thin air.” In Act IV of The Tempest, Prospero says, “These our actors,/As I foretold you, were all spirits and/Are melted into air, into thin air.”

Stéphane Schück and Chris Stamey also wrote the next track, “Not Going Back,” and Chris sings lead on this one, joined by Pat Sansone (from Wilco). Chris Stamey also plays guitar on this track. I can’t help but think of certain politicians when I hear these lines: “You’re never ever going to change/You’re never going to tell the truth.” This is a solid power pop number. Then we get the song co-written by Peter Holsapple, “The Pebble In My Hand.” He sings lead on this catchy number, and Chris Stamey did the string arrangement. Laura Thomas is on violin. And actually all of The dB’s contribute to this track, with Will Rigby and Gene Holder also playing on it. Check out these lyrics: “Sometimes while you’re not paying attention/You find yourself living in a state of suspension/Looking for an obvious road to redemption/And you won’t get that without better directions.” That’s followed by “Another Bus Coming,” which was written by Stéphane Schück and Matthew Caws. Matthew Caws sings lead on it, Chris Stamey provides backing vocals and plays acoustic guitar, and Mitch Easter plays guitar. Yeah, there is a lot of talent on this track. I especially love the strings on this one. Laura Thomas is on violin, and Leah Gibson is on cello.

Matthew Sweet co-wrote “Dream Inside Me” with Stéphane Shück, and sings lead on it. Matthew Sweet also plays guitar and mellotron. “You don’t need to win if you never have to fight.” Faith Jones provides backing vocals, and the string section of Laura Thomas and Leah Gibson returns. There is a surprising break halfway through, a pause, before the guitar leads into a brief instrumental section. I love this track’s ending, with the strings. That’s followed by “A Piece Of Candy,” which was written by Stéphane Shück and Anton Barbeau. Barbeau sings lead on this one. He also sang and played on the Salt album, The Loneliness Of Clouds, and co-wrote several of that album’s songs. “Hi, hi, I like your sweater/Hi, hi, call me later.” This track also makes use of some backwards guitar, bringing to mind The Beatles. That’s Gene Holder on guitar.

The rest of the album’s tracks were written by Stéphane Shück and Chris Stamey, and feature all of The dB’s. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple sing on “Nursery Rhyme.” Here is a taste of the lyrics: “We are the dreamers/And we are the dream/Take leave of your senses, dear/And come with me/Standing on the edge of a moment.” Matt Douglas plays flute and saxophone, adding to the lively sound. In the middle, a voice whispers to us. That’s Crystal Schück, who comes back again toward the end of the track. Faith Jones joins Chris Stamey on vocals for “Throwing Stones.” I love the way their voices sound together, along with Peter Holsapple. There is an interesting vocal line to this one helping to make this track stand out. “You drove fast, until you went off the rails.” Susan Cowsill then sings lead on “Spacewalk 2068,” another interesting song, one that draws me in more each time I listen to it. “Absolute endless winter/First the saint, then the sinner.” Chris Stamey sings lead on “I Knew You So Well,” which has a darker vibe as it begins. “The lights go on/But everyone’s gone.” Leah Gibson contributes some excellent work on cello. This is another of the disc’s highlights. The album concludes with “Making It Up As We Go Along,” which goes back to a brighter pop sound. Chris Stamey sings lead, with Peter Holsapple providing backing vocals. “Anything you want to do, anything at all/Anything you want me to, I’m at your beck and call.”

CD Track List

  1. Asylum
  2. Where The Wild Things Are
  3. Not Going Back
  4. The Pebble In My Hand
  5. Another Bus Coming
  6. Dream Inside Me
  7. A Piece Of Candy
  8. Nursery Rhyme
  9. Throwing Stones
  10. Spacewalk 2068
  11. I Knew You So Well
  12. Making It Up As We Go Along

Life was released on May 12, 2023 through Propeller Sound Recordings.

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