Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Robert Chaney the 21st Century Troubadour

Back when I still bought Uncut magazine on a semi-regular basis (that is, before I got bored of their apparently unchanging cycle of cover stars - Dylan, CSNY, The Band, repeat), I came into possession of a CD called Homeward Bound: 21st Century Troubadours. This was a compilation of songs by earnest folky types like Josh T. Pearson, The Tallest Man On Earth, et cetera, and it remains one of the best albums I've ever found gunked onto the front of a magazine. It's no Michael Stipe Presents..., but then what is?

Floridian singer-songwriter Robert Chaney may well have picked up that particular issue of Uncut too, because Cracked Picture Frames - Chaney's debut album, released earlier this year - calls that four-and-a-half year-old free-with-a-magazine CD to mind as readily as if I'd acquired it yesterday. While Chaney's album appears to feature only two voices (his own and his guitar's), he manages to cover a diverse range of different styles over the course of those ten tracks; some, like Does Your Love Pay Out in Full? are gentle and wistful, while the likes of Birds and Bees sound more playful and skirt closer to a more traditional definition of folk music. Still others, such as Black Eyed Susan and Patch it Up, are kind of harsh and grungy-sounding, like they were recorded in a rickety wooden shack inside a guitar amplifier.

This breadth means that Cracked Picture Frames kind of ends up sounding like a 21st Century Troubadour compilation in its own right. It's quite fun to try and match each of those ten tracks to a song from Homeward Bound: The Cyclist, for example, has a doomy, claustrophobic sound that's akin to the atmosphere evoked by Villagers' Home, while Does Your Love Pay Out in Full? reminds me somewhat of Troubles Will Be Gone, The Tallest Man On Earth's contrubution to that Uncut disc.

Most exciting for me, however, is I Didn't Want Her Anyway, the seventh track on Cracked Picture Frames and the closest thing I've heard to a new Josh T. Pearson track since Last of the Country Gentlemen - one of my favourite albums of all time, mind you - slid onto my CD rack back in the summer of 2011. Here it is in all its gorgeousness:

I Didn't Want Her Anyway is one of the more country-influenced tracks on Cracked Picture Frames, and Chaney sounds sadder and more conflicted here than at any other point on the LP (incidentally, I don't believe the song's title for a second, and neither should you). If you're familiar with Last of the Country Gentleman, this track will probably remind you of Honeymoon's Great! Wish You Were Her more than any other song from that album; the two share a 'got someone, want someone else' theme, and lines like "I know I don't want her/I forget why again" could have come from the weepin' pen of Josh T. hisself. Here, for comparison, is Honeymoon's Great:

Okay, so Chaney's song is shorter than Pearson's, and the aching string interludes are absent from I Didn't Want Her Anyway, but there's certainly some of the same DNA in both tracks. If you, like me, are sick of waiting for a follow-up to Last of the Country Gentlemen, then Cracked Picture Frames may be the best possible substitute currently available - buy it here.

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