Dave Tilton,
Eau
(D-Side Records, 1999)

I would imagine that seeing Dave Tilton live is very much like listening to this album. Eau covers a wide range of topics and moods, from a song about Monica Lewinsky to the tale of a man who married a mermaid and how he reacted when she left him for the sea. The musical sounds are varied, too, from traditional guitar, voice and harmonica to more rock-based sounds, and with some trumpet (I think) work that's very nice on the instrumental piece "By Her Window." Overall, this CD reminded me a bit of Neil Young, in both music and lyrics.

I particularly like "The Flood," with its juxtapositions of nature with love. The refrain repeats "Let's not name it" in "something as incomplete as language," a sentiment I share, and not only as I try to evoke the spirit of music in prose! A lyric sheet would have been very welcome for this song. The themes are set off by hand drumming and some very nice guitar work.

I also like the brief instrumental piece "By Her Window." Its style is a pleasant contrast to the vocals accompanied by guitar and harmonica of several of the other songs.

"The Long Goodbye" is a song about a man who marries a mermaid, who then deserts him for the sea. His response is very much that of a modern American rather than a traditional Celt, although as unsuccessful. I'll add that the verse about Janet Reno seems inexplicable to me....

"Cage" is a good song, but would benefit from a very different setting. When listening to it I kept imagining how it would sound covered by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones -- now, that would be perfect!

"Wade in the Water," a traditional song (and the only one on this album which Tilton didn't write), has really grown on me. He uses his voice as an instrument more than a carrier of the lyrics, and the whole is very tight and rhythmical. I listened to it several times in a row and it made me want to dance, or drum.

"10:15" and "Groundhog Day" are both spoken word pieces with solid and interesting accompaniment. "Made to Break" is a sad love song. "Monica" is a sympathetic ode to Ms Lewinsky, so a bit dated as of this writing. "Jars" is a jaundiced look at L.A., a place that's not very hospitable to singer-songwriters in general. "Old Man" sounds very much like a Neil Young song, and Tilton includes an explicit Young reference -- a bit of dry wit I enjoyed.

I do have a couple of quibbles. While omitting a lyric sheet saves money when producing an album, for a singer-songwriter I think it is usually a mistake. It's so much harder to hear and appreciate Tilton's lyrics when I don't have a reference to consult; despite many listenings, I'm still not entirely sure of the second line in the refrain of "The Flood," and I'd really like to know it -- I love that song!

The sound is a little muddy in places but not bad. My other main quibble is that it was recorded much more quietly than is normal, so it doesn't fit well with other CDs when I set up five to play while I work.

All in all, I found this a very enjoyable album. I'd recommend it to people who like singer-songwriters, especially if they are fond of Neil Young, too.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]