Paul Kaplan,
After the Fire
(Old Coat, 2003)

Paul Kaplan's After the Fire is something of a schizophrenic listening experience. Half the time it's a comedy album, busting down the walls to get a laugh with songs like "Take Out the Garbage When You Go," grinning at songwriter's absurdities in "Underneath the Stars Above," kissing a fond farewell to the somber workaday world and vowing to "Give My Bones to Greyhound." A twist of tune and it's lost in sorrow, wandering down "The Halls of Hospice" under the tune of an old Western, searching for the meaning of "Christmas Morn."

But for the most part After the Fire is a watchful album, evaluating the world with clear but hopeful eyes. "Carrion Crow" is a bitter reminder of the seemingly eternal cost of war, charting the flight of the scavenger bird with a dark folk tune. "The Joke" snarls with anger and hurt, reeling back from a shock too sudden to understand. But these songs are balanced by the undeserved grace of found love in "So I Could Get to You" and the easy enjoyment of "Vacation Time."

After the Fire is best represented by two songs. The title track is a broad metaphor for the fall of the World Trade towers, but goes beyond that single instance to address the conflict between life's basic insecurity and essential resilience. "I Can't Remember Wintertime" recalls the pain of the two most destructive wars in world history, but through the mirror of a golden summer so natural as to seem eternal. That balance between destruction and hope is the heart of After the Fire, and gives all Kaplan's songs a poignancy often missing in self-consciously social music.

Somber or silly, After the Fire is always good. More than just pleasant to listen to, Kaplan's unstressed vocals turn every song into a confidence, a friendly conversation to help put the day into perspective. Musically, After the Fire stays on the folk side of the singer-songwriter tradition. Emotionally, it moves right into the heart and makes itself welcome.

by Sarah Meador
27 May 2006

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