Bruce Piephoff,
(Flyin' Cloud, 2001)

Fringeland, from singer-songwriter Bruce Piephoff, is an enjoyable modern folk offering of all original songs. The 23 tracks range from 42 seconds to over five minutes for more than an hour of varied music. Piephoff's pleasant voice and skilled guitar fit the songs well, and the other musicians accent the songs and the singing.

While I'm a bass fan, the bass on this album seems to me too prominent. The playing is good -- it was just mixed too prominently and at times distracted me from the rest of the music until I managed to tune it out.

Piephoff knows how to turn a phrase, such as "You've been out there fighting lions / where the lions ain't been" on "The Wind From Newport News." "Marvalene," reminiscent of a Chuck Berry song, has fun with improbable rhymes for the name, like "mezzanine." This may well be the first time I've hear that word in a song! I wish he had spent equal effort on all his songs, since some of them sound to me more like a first draft than a polished work, with awkwardness in the phrasing.

Several songs tell us about the life of a folk musician. I especially like "Big in Slovenia," about being a sensation in an odd market. "Folk Highway" and "One More Night at the Travelodge" are more predictable, but still good songs.

Piephoff doesn't seem to be a fan of organized religion. "Electric Stool at Bible School" describes an encounter between two kids there for the arts and crafts, and a ruthless preacher prepared with technology. References in other songs, like "Assassinating a Sunday" and "Something's Gotta Give," reinforce this.

The longest song here was, I thought, the least effective. Many of the rhymes in "Something's Gotta Give" seem quite forced, and the message heavy-handed (though making an important point). Piephoff does have the occasional well-turned phrase here, like "..the baby kept on crying / like a flame I couldn't douse" -- a feeling most of us parents have felt, though here leading to tragedy.

"Any Father's Son" is another serious one, this time about Matthew Shepherd's death. It's a sad song, with a jarring juxtaposition between the subject matter and the cowboy ballad approach. I still haven't decided whether it works for me, but it's striking and does draw attention to the lyrics and message.

The spoken word pieces punctuate the songs well, with the poetry of "Buckroe" my favorite -- though I don't fish, it evokes the experience beautifully.

The liner is rudimentary and doesn't even list the songs, let alone give us information or lyrics for each.

This album would be a welcome gift for those who have enjoyed hearing Piephoff live, where some of the lyrical awkwardness is less noticeable. For those of us who haven't, though, it's more of a mixed bag. The good songs are very good, and the rest are adequate. Piephoff has recorded a number of albums, so it seems he and his fans are happy with his work -- and at its best, it is wonderful. I wish more of the songs here reached that level, but enjoyed the album nonetheless.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 24 November 2001