Raised in Vermont and now living in Raleigh, North Carolina, having released his debut, Moving Day, in 2005, it’s taken 15 years to get round to a second. However, it’s been time well spent.
Things open with ‘I’ll Come Back Around’, a lightly scampering rhythm and a hint of early Glen Campbell on a song he describes as being about a flawed narrator, trying to find ways to own his shortcomings and acknowledge the ways that he’s taking advantage of other people (“I always take advantage/Given half a chance/Promise more than I can manage”). The acoustic ‘Hold Up’ keeps the rootsy pop flavour going with tumbling chords as he sings about stepping back and reflecting on just how much you’re contributing to things going wrong in your life (“Half the fault is yours,but right now you don’t care/You have convinced yourself that ‘Life’s Not Fair’”), before, a number about snakeoil salesmen politicians (“you’re only hearing what it is I want you to/Trade tasty fiction for distasteful fact”) inspired Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, ‘Kerosene’ marks a decided musical shift into New Orleans jazzy territory with horns and a swaggery swing beat. Another number about reconciling what is with what you’d hoped it would be, the midtempo ‘Marianne’ features Grammy nominated Alex Meixner on accordion and hints of the 70s SoCal singer-songwriter era before pedal steel and violin bring more of a country feel to ‘Strong Cup Of Coffee’ which, featuring Becca Smith and Coty Hoove from Admiral Radio on three-part harmonies, is about finding ways to deal with the hurt of a broken relationship and then having to deal with what you used to numb the pain (“ Liquor is stronger than courage/At least it’s stronger than mine/But I will not be discouraged/Maybe I’ll beat it this time/It’ll take a strong cup of coffee”).
Continuing on a similar theme and given a moody desert country blues feel with its violin and sandpapery vocals, the mid-tempo ‘With You is about knowing shouldn’t cheat but rationalising the decision to do so as being out of your control (“I was Icarus you were both Sun and Sea/The first time that I met you I could tell that you’d be dangerous to me”).
A personal favourite, the gently chugging ‘Day Old Ticker Tape Parade’ rides a circling guitar riff on a country-rock styled song about picking yourself up because, since “ You can only fall so far and then you’re lying on the ground”, you can either just lie there sprawled on your back or get up and start again.
Originally written for the debut album, ‘No Easy Way’ Out underwent a change of lyrical perspective in the interim, the narrator laying into someone (“I’ll just speak my mind/Say it to your face/All the things I’ve been holding back, not sharing; things unkind”), seeing themselves as the injured party in the relationship only for things to shift towards the end as they acknowledge that they’re the perpetrator (“All this heartbreak, I’m the root of it”) not victim (“you chose to be deceived/Swallowed all the lies/Disregarding the warning signs,just wanting to believe/The shabby alibis”).
Another dysfunctional relationship is at the heart of ‘This Summer Sucks’ (“You just sit there silent with that smile plastered on your face/Haven’t talked in awhile…The only sound is the front door…what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is never mine”), the bluesy minor chord verses counterpointed with the handclappy choruses, and featuring the striking image of “When I looked in the paper it was full of little yellow suns/With glassy eyes that look like yours”.
And yet they seem resolved to see the season out in the hope that metaphorical better weather comes along, just as the slow strummed sway ‘I Don’t Mind’ is about sticking with an unhealthy relationship despite knowing it should be over (‘I drink too much, you flirt more than you should/We break each other’s hearts/Drive each other mad, but can’t bear to be apart”), accordion and trumpet imparting a TexMex flavour.
The pace and rhythm takes an upswing as the final stretch gets underway with another messed up relationship in ‘Must Be The Devil’ that again plays the blame switcheroo card,, moving from “Feel self-loathing start to spread/Fill up with dread and certainty/Accusations levelled… I employed a sweet charade/And unafraid you listened” to “You blame me/When you act on your desire/I wonder/Which one of us is the bigger liar?”.
He shifts gender perspective with the penultimate ‘It’s All On You (You’ve Ruined Everything)’, which, featuring cello and violin, is written from the point of view of the high school sweetheart whose boyfriend, blindsided by temptation, grows up to be the trouble everyone predicted (“They just didn’t seem like things you would be willing to do/I guess I was wrong”).
It ends with the return of brass for the scurrying rhythms of ‘Waiting’, again conjuring those Laurel Canyon days on a bittersweet number about looking forward rather than behind (“Hindsight’s 20/20, that’s no use to me”), clinging to the hope of putting things back together (“I’m not giving up unless you’re wanting me to”) with “another cup of coffee, a real apology/For all the things that went away” but ultimately accepting that its over (“you could always tell me what I want to hear/How I am the only one for you…/But I know that it’s not true/There are others wanting you/And I know you know this too”).
A perfect soundtrack to that post breakup period when you’re looking to feel sorry for yourself, blame the other person, start to reflect how much it was you’re fault and wonder if there’s the chance of fixing things, but knowing deep down that it’s not going to happen. As such, there must be millions of potential buyers out there.
Artist’s website: www.christitchner.com
‘Must Be The Devil’ – live: