Richard Shindell,
Somewhere Near Paterson
(Signature Sounds, 2000)

Richard Shindell is a singer-songwriter in high demand. Don't believe me? Well, folk queen Joan Baez was so impressed with his material that she recorded three of his songs on her album Gone From Danger. If you still don't believe me, then just pop Somewhere Near Paterson into your CD player and let Shindell's evocative lyrics and smooth voice win you over.

Truth be told, though, Shindell's voice is anything but smooth on the opening track, "Confessions." This full-throated folk-rock number reveals the whispered confessions of a Wall Street stockbroker to his pharmacist; Shindell powers it along with a harsh, unforgiving strength. Things smooth out with "Abuelita," in which Shindell reveals the storytelling ability that has already brought him much acclaim. The song is about the mother of an Argentinian "disappeared" in the 1970s, searching crowds on the streets for a glimpse of her granddaughter. Simple yet rich, Shindell's treatment is hopeful but never overly sentimentalized.

"You Stay Here" is vocally one of the best tracks on the CD; Shindell uses his rich, full voice to give weight to another simple story, revealing the heartbreak and hunger hidden between the lines. The next song, Buddy and Julie Miller's "My Love Will Follow You," showcases a gorgeous three-part harmony: Shindell, Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky. Together, these three make up the folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry; if this song is any proof, this group is not one to be missed.

"Spring/Summer Reel" is a jaunty Celtic reel; again, Shindell's voice strikes a perfect balance with the music. Featuring Larry Campbell on fiddle and mandolin and Joanie Madden on wooden flute, this tune captures a little bit of innocence and sunlight and brings it inside. The nature theme continues with "Wisteria." Shindell deftly handles the beautiful imagery in this one, wrapping it around the notes like the flowering vine of its title.

Shindell proves, though, that not all his songs are perfectly balanced; sometimes a little dissonance is just what's needed. Take "Waiting for a Storm," for instance. The cheerful Texas string-band music provides a jolting counterpoint to the lyrics about a man making some disturbing preparations. Kaplansky chimes in again on this one, adding just the right amount of twang with her background vocals. "The Grocer's Broom" is another storytelling masterpiece, with some of the most beautifully crafted lyrics on the entire CD: "He sees the old sunken chair / where silence sits playing her flute / He finds the tune, hums along / She will teach him all of her five hundred songs." This song definitely deserves your undivided attention all the way through.

Beauty comes through in more than the lyrics. "Merritt Parkway, 2 am" is a haunting instrumental piece, featuring the lonesome cry of a fiddle. Shindell quickly shifts gears, however, and dives into a highly imaginative piece called "Transit." A backwards pedal-steel and droning guitar riffs imitate the sounds of cars zipping by on the freeway, creating the perfect mood for this quirky, dark song. Finally, Shindell wraps things up with "Calling the Moon," a never-before-recorded Dar Williams song.

I'm willing to bet that if you haven't heard of Richard Shindell yet, then you soon will. Somewhere Near Paterson is the closest thing to perfect that I've heard in a long time -- perfect in the sense that Shindell is an artist who knows what he's trying to say and knows just how to play it.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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