Bill Garrett,
Seems to Me
(Borealis, 1999)

Seems to Me is an album by musician and producer Bill Garrett containing a couple of his own compositions: "Northshore Train," a nostalgic foot-tapper about the impressive steam trains of his youth, and two guitar instrumentals, "Canadian Spaces" and "Birds Hill." The remainder of the CD is a pleasant blend of covers and rearrangements, opening with "Solitaire" by Ellen Shizgal, a slightly world-weary song about denying companionship. Lucinda Chodan's "I Wonder If You're Sleeping Tonight" redresses the balance, with the lonely lover listening to the radio and longing for an absent partner. David Essig's "Quiet Money" is a subtle, thought-provoking song, outlining discreet corruption and its consequences.

Garrett is accompanied throughout by Curly Boy Stubbs on the other guitar, and their long partnership is evident within the complementary styles. Don Reed, on fiddle, provides some emphatic harmonies, particularly effective in "Northshore Train." The other musicians -- Tom Leighton on accordion, Randy Kempf on bass, Chris Coode on banjo and Dan Whiteley on mandolin -- embody slick professionalism without ever seeming overtly commercial. The sound is smooth and pleasing, and Garrett's vocals, occasionally accompanied by Sue Lothrop, are well-suited to the songs he has chosen.

There are emotional lyrics to a Richard Thompson composition, contrasting beauty and innocence amidst the ugliness and destitution of war: "In her poor burned-out house I sat at her table/the smell of her hair was like cornfields in May/And I wanted to weep and my eyes ached from trying/Oh how will I ever be simple again." This theme of loss is continued with lost love in "In Case You Ever Change Your Mind" and "A Winter's Night," the first a contrastingly lively tune, the second a gentle and traditional ballad. "Like I Used To Do" is, as Garrett describes it, "particularly poignant for those of us over forty," reminiscing about "when we'd be the last to leave/Watching the sun come up, while everyone fell asleep/The music was always loud, I'd smoke and drink too much/Until I'd fall in your arms, and into your lovin' touch." This is a nice one for singing along, lacking the angst of Thompson's lyrics or the slightly tricky timing of "A Winter's Night."

Bob Franke's "Thanksgiving Eve" is an uplifting tune with positive and philosophical lyrics, easy to sing with its standard chording. Garrett closes the album with Sam Larkin's "Mirabeau Bridge," another lyric laden with memories and tinged with love and hope. It is a good strong finale, with the unexpected richness of multiple vocal harmonies, and Leighton's accordion provides the necessary pull on the heartstrings.

Seems To Me grows on you. Nothing is invasive or obtrusive, and so at first play it can seem a little bland. But Garrett's years of experience in the business tell, and the choice of lyrics and tunes provides a pleasingly mature and mellow listening experience. A fine album.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 25 January 2003

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