Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sings Shenandoah and Other Popular Hits - Frederick Squire

Sings Shenandoah and Other Popular Hits

Frederick Squire
Blue Fog Recordings.

SCQ Rating: 70%

When you grow an appreciation for an artist based on a handful of contributions to other people’s work, it seems like a discovery that can't disappoint. In the case of Frederick Squire, who’d collaborated within Shotgun & Jaybird, who’d sung on Mount Eerie’s Lost Wisdom and who’d stood out as Fred in Daniel, Fred and Julie, I admit that my appreciation for his countless drop-ins on friends’ records snowballed into hype for Frederick Squire Sings Shenandoah and Other Popular Hits. But hype’s the enemy to a full-length as humble and reserved as this one. What Shenandoah requires is anti-hype, the reservations upheld by a patient ear and, perhaps, a healing heart.

Once you’ve whetted your palette to its lone-man folk, these nine songs begin to reward our company with songwriting that’s gentle yet unshakable, arrangements both stubborn and fluid. Where ‘Lucky Number Seven’’s devastating narrative feeds off of sympathetic organ work, ‘All Things Past Serve To Guide You On Your Way’ ends on a choral of mournful vocals. These unexpected flourishes that interrupt Shenandoah’s acoustic-or-bust framework may arrive suddenly but they wisely bleed some slow-moving gusto from such austere arrangements. These unassuming highlights - of which we can add the bittersweet 'Peaceful Valley' - make good on Sings Shenandoah's less accessible stretches of loneliness but, the fact remains, this record wasn't made for summer BBQs or weekend hangouts. Squire's words and music are to be coveted like a love-letter to one's own company, almost by necessity; I doubt the album could find suitable oxygen without an intimate environment.

Although some songs build to an affecting gracefulness, Squire’s decision to close the disc with a live recording of a scant instrumental (‘Theme From a Small Towne Movie’) suggests an indifference to the gravitas he’s just laid down. Mixing heavy doses of sparseness with shrugged-off asides doesn’t make for a landmark release in traditional (re: minimal) folk. And while nobody claimed that Sings Shenandoah was aiming for such a title, Squire’s careful approach throughout the majority of this album often suggests otherwise.

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