Richard Thorne, |
I actually remember the day Buddy Holly died. It was bitterly cold in the Upper Midwest in early February 1959, and that morning, chatting with a classmate in gym, I asked who his favorite rock 'n' roll singer was. "Buddy Holly," he snapped before he could even blink. I went home after school and turned on the radio just as the news was breaking out of Clear Lake, Iowa.
Buddy Holly has long been a part of my life. His music will give me joy as long as I am here to hear it. But with his premature passing, so went his immense yet not fully formed talent; thus, sadly, we will never know what he would have done with it if his fate had been otherwise.
His star was fading when he died -- newspaper accounts of the plane crash actually gave the headlines to co-passenger Ritchie Valens -- but had he lived, his career in music surely would not have been over. The biographers who came along years later report that he was looking past the pop-star moment and laying plans to become a record producer. I have no doubt, however, that soon enough he would have reinvented himself and reentered the performing arena, presumably with a more adult musical persona. The folk revival was just gaining traction in 1959, and Holly, who knew folk music (he grew up listening to his mother's handed-down ballads and was an avid Bill Monroe fan), may well have been drawn to it in due course.
Richard Thorne, a New York City singer-songwriter, is not Buddy Holly, of course, but you don't have to be psychic to sense Holly's ghost all over Amalgam. Holly might have sounded something like this if he had migrated to the Village scene in the latter 1960s, as folk music was transforming into folk-rock -- in other words into an intelligent, inner-directed, generally acoustic pop.
While Thorne doesn't have Holly's overwhelming talent -- who does? -- he does manage to convey an impression of what a Holly who had heard Bob Dylan might have become. As illustrations of the point, I submit in particular "How Can I Tell" and -- perhaps the most immediately appealing song on the CD -- "Everybody's Left Town."
Like the late-'60s folk-rockers who are the other half of his influences, Thorne's songs sometimes test patience with their wordiness and grate with their occasional preciousness. His idiosyncratically angular vocals will either charm you or have you leaping out the nearest window. If your first impulse is the latter, I'd urge you to resist it; Thorne may well grow on you, and not as would a, mm, thorn in your side. Besides, I like anybody who likes Holly. Beyond that, I can only admire someone who'd be inspired to compose a song about Joe "Professor Seagull" Gould, a real-life New York street character, oddball, sponger and world-class liar profiled for the ages by the late New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell.