Jeff Talmadge,
(CoraZong, 2006)

In each of the songs on Blissville, the stories comes first, with the music acting as a simple, supporting element. For an excellent example, note the acoustical accompaniment that provides an ominous tone for "Message in a Bottle," a song about bad luck and second-guessing. Jeff Talmadge's voice and the musical instruments accentuate elements of the story, yet seemingly do not take an equal footing with the story being told.

It seems many singers-storytellers strive to show off their vocal skills, playing skills, etc., as well as their songwriting and storytelling abilities. Talmadge doesn't seem to seek any attention, keeping his voice and all the instruments in a comfortable range, providing a pleasant collection of stories.

The story-songs of Blissville have rather familiar subject matter. "40 Days of Rain" is a narrative of a frustrated farmer suffering through various droughts (actual, personal, spiritual, etc.). "A Soldier's Christmas" is a heart-wrenching glimpse at uncertainty and homesickness. "Ophelia" is a loved one who continues to make bad decisions. "Lie to Me" asks for at least the illusion of love in the absence of real love; "Midnight Flight" laments lost love's location. "The Hard Part's Letting Go" is about -- well, for a love song, the title is pretty self-explanatory. All of these songs tell an engaging tale.

Oddly enough, the most touching song of the album -- lyrically and musically -- is "Secret Anniversaries," yet it's the only song on the album with a vague story. The limited amount of lyrics to this song only serves to emphasize the "secret" aspect. Regardless of the song's hidden story, Talmadge's vocal style fuses perfectly with the tone to create a mysterious, introspective mood. Another nearly hidden mystery is Frank Kammerdiener's cello, which is an astounding element of this song. It acts as an underlying defining element, often providing a steady sound, and subtly shifting to a staccato at just the right time. It's a beautiful aspect that could stand alone, but only adds to the greater whole of the song.

The stories/narratives told on Blissville aren't anything new, but this album is hardly about novelty. Jeff Talmadge has a mature and consistent sound that is a far cry from "new," and in this case, that's a welcome quality. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you've heard something similar, as long as it's an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Talmadge manages to take familiar stories and tell them in a manner that makes them better than new -- he makes them comfortable.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

30 June 2007

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