Erik Balkey,
While the Paint Dries
(Hudson Harding, 2004)

Erik Balkey's While the Paint Dries is an album of unabashed emotion and deceptive strength. Balkey's vocal styling is close to spoken word, with just enough melodic tinting to blend in with his uncomplicated instrumental arrangements. The style is flexible enough to carry heavy emotion without dramatic emphasis, and perfect for subtler emotions that would be overwhelmed by a more dramatic performance.

Combined with flowing guitar work, it provides a sound delicate enough to deliver the dangerously simple feeling of "Give Love, Amen" without sounding clumsy, and recall the smell of late summer evenings for "Baseball in My Blood" with enough force to create nostalgia in even the most disinterested non-fan.

While the Paint Dries sinks to a lull at the midpoint of the album. "God's Poet Now" and "How Does This Poem End" both dwell too long on their conceits and linger over far too many choruses, killing the ephemeral lightness that makes Balkey's work appealing.

The album recovers in the last half, with three songs that highlight Balkey's gift for emotional insight. "We're Only Friends," "Can I Make a Home" and "Someone to Call" each portray a satisfying chapter of a romance and, though not explicitly linked, feed into each other so well they form a petite operetta. The first two are transforming moments, caught by notes with the erratic flutter of butterfly wings. "We're Only Friends" captures the moment when a relationship changes into something new, losing the old security for a rich but uncertain promise. "Can I Make a Home" is a one-sided conversation somewhere between a prayer and an argument, as a traveler reconsiders the possibilities he's been denying himself. The last stanzas, as the song risks everything to reach for more, leave the listener hoping for a happy ending. After the painfully hopeful question left open by "Can I Make a Home," "Someone to Call" feels like a reward, a song of gratefulness for the quiet power of constant love. Delivered with uncomplicated guitar work and honest sentiment, "Someone to Call" is the perfect endnote for While the Paint Dries, sweet, powerful, and honest enough to find an echo in any life.

by Sarah Meador
26 November 2005

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