Hailing from Ontario, Cardiff has notched up sixteen solo album, live and studio recordings, but All This Time Running is his first full-length collection of original material in five years and also marks his debut on the prestigious Canadian label. It’s unfortunate then that I can’t be completely effusive as it’s a definite game of two halves.
It opens solidly with the upbeat and catchy title track love song, his voice a slightly adenoidal warble his guitar accompanied by mandolin, and proceeds to keep the flag flying high with ‘Emm & May’, a rhythmically tumbling number that nods its musical head to Paul Simon’s Gracelands groove. The pace slows for another nugget with the ambling sway of ‘Decorated’ (“I am Decorated/And I am not Decoration”) which opens out in an orchestral string arrangement midway and from there to the frisky ‘Yellowknife’ with its brass embellishments and ba ba da ba ba chorus backing vocals.
The midwater mark comes with the wearied shuffle of ‘Wyoming’, again coloured with brass alongside strings and piano, its lyrics pregnant with melancholy (“time picked all the pockets, she worried he’d only love her once he’d lost her”), but then he shifts into a shuffling jazzier rhythm with the huskier voiced ‘The American’ but while the lyrics are engagingly enigmatic (“in the dream you killed a bird and saved my life/the iron felt cold, the car killed in gear/always feel your way through both sides of the mirror”) and the chorus soars, the track as a whole never quite engages.
And, while they’re by no means poor, the same generally holds true for much of the second half, ‘Moon’ returning to the jaunty, brass lope on which it began but to lesser effect while the circling guitar patterned ‘Greyhound, SK’, the rueful trudge of ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ and the mandolin accompanied, sparsely structured ‘Fire Fire Fire’ too often had my attention wandering.
But then, All This Time Running reignites with the uptempo final track, ‘Bryant Park’ with its bubbling banjo and soaring chorus, named for the year round New York town park and the lyrics containing a reference to Miriam and Barney from the Mordecai Richler novel Barney’s Version. And the flame keeps burning with the addition of six bonus tracks, kicking off with a haunting strings-stroked version of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ and followed by the infectious folksy John Prine-flavoured sway of ‘Ymir, BC’, titled for the small town in the West Kootenays and with a singalong friendly refrain of “send me a picture and write me a letter”. Then comes ‘Dirty Old Town’, not the Ewan MacColl classic, but a lovely soft and huskily sung, fingerpicked dancing original and, prior to an explicit version of the title track and a big band jubilant restyling of ‘Moon’ that works a whole lot better, there’s the wistful fingerpicked, violin accompanied ‘Last Love Letter’. Had these been part of the album per se rather than the three weaker numbers, it would have been a truly terrific return to the spotlight and new label christening, but even so, on balance, I’d rather have it in my collection than not.
Artist’s website: www.craigcardiff.com
‘Dirty Old Town’ – official video:
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