Saturday, November 17, 2012

Michael Smith – Old Man Dancing

Old Man Dancing
Bird Avenue

If “The Dutchman” was the only song Michael Smith ever wrote, I’d put him on my list of great songwriters. But Michael has consistently written many great songs over the past 40 years or so and cemented his place on the list many times over.

Some of the most recent examples of Michael’s great writing are on Old Man Dancing, his new CD and, once again, he uses the power of finely-crafted lyrics, elegant melodies and minimalist arrangements to draw the listener into a series of compelling story songs.

Some of these are songs in which Michael assumes the character of real people. In “Ghost of Lash LaRue,” he becomes the 1940s movie cowboy roaming around Hollywood. In “Roger Maris,” he uses the template of Woody Guthrie’s “Buffalo Skinners” to sing from the perspective of the ghost of the baseball great defending his 1961 record 61 home runs over the tainted accomplishments of “the muscle bound clowns sticking holes in themselves.”

The most gripping of the real people songs is “Ballad of Phil Spector,” in which he sings from the perspective of the bizarre record producer covering everything from the early hits in 1958 to the strange sessions with Leonard Cohen to his current imprisonment for murder.

In the lovely “Pittston Stove,” Michael seems to be singing about childhood memories. The latter song vividly recreates scenes with aunts and uncles centred on the warmth of the stove’s fire.

The most amusing song is “Ballad of Dorian Gray,” which Michael sings as a hipster version of the narcissistic Oscar Wilde character whose portrait ages instead of himself. He very effectively uses stereo effects to have Dorian and the portrait seemingly singing a duet.

The arrangements are all built around Michael’s guitar playing with creative use of his own overdubbed bass and percussion where appropriate.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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