Jeff Woodell,
Pictures of Nothing
(independent, 2006)

Although he oddly describes himself as "Elliot Smith meets Enya," there's a lot more to Jeff Woodell and his debut album, Pictures of Nothing. Each aspect could stand alone, were there such a need. The lyrics alone would make for very nice poetry, each having a great depth of feeling. The instrumental work is pleasant, keeping an amiable tempo and consistent flow. And the vocal style is where the Enya reference becomes clear. But it's the combination, the merger of all of these elements into a cohesive inseparable whole, that is the remarkable task in which many musical artists can fall short. The lacking quality is often honesty. Some musicians can fake it, but for most the simplest route is to just bare their soul. Woodell is either an excellent faker, or he's one of the most forthright musicians this reviewer has ever heard.

Woodell does an excellent job of merging music with theme. For an instance, look at the title track. "Pictures of Nothing" starts out with a dreamy, transcendent quality. It's an introduction to a memory of a photograph, with an initial hint of happiness, but the deeper meaning -- the resultant truth -- is revealed. The lyrics vividly tell of being in a hopeless one-sided relationship. As much as he tried to make it work, forcing a blind optimism, that love was never truly returned. The despondent theme of the lyrics is reinforced by the hollow ghost-like vocalization, as if his soul has been emptied. This is a song of real heartbreak. Those lyrics as written could not be the product of imagination but experience.

Another song that displays this almost brutal honesty is "Shining, Burning." The strumming of the guitar and cello establish a fiercely consistent and focused pace. Then come the lyrics about an obsessive affection for someone, wrapped in an atmosphere of dedicated attention that's hazy at the edges. This haziness is the self-realized inadequacies, a believed lack of worth. Woodell sings of "a fumbling man who might be missed, ... a penny in a world of dimes." Despite the strong desire to be noticed, he asks, "Can't you see my blushing face felt better in its hiding place?" The entirety of the song reveals the awkward complexities of attraction and doubt.

Pictures of Nothing is a raw, emotional revelation of the artist, with a forthright honesty. Such a straightforward and exposing manner might seem unsettling or even voyeuristic, but Woodell is not a musical exhibitionist. This all-too-brief album (six songs, that's it) shares experiences in an oddly comforting manner that is devoid of any unsettling impressions. Hopefully, Woodell will have many more experiences that will generate more music, and hopefully he'll be willing to share that music.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

21 July 2007

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