Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Arizona (redo)

Tracy Shedd
(New Granada 2013)

Back on January 15th of this year, I posted a “review” of Tracy Shedd’s fifth album Arizona, which was released in November of last year.  I put “review” in quotes, because it was really some kind of attempt to capture the feel of the album without the usual rundown of hyperbole.  It was framed as a letter to a long lost flame from a long time ago, who, rumor had it, was struggling with debilitating depression.  It was part album review, part letter in earnest, and part fiction.  It felt wrong the moment I posted it, but decided to stick with it hoping that it would seem better in retrospect (you can see the mess here).  But, as I listen to this album for about the 3,000th time right now, after contemplating my favorite records of the year (see here), I thought I’d revisit and try to correct – or maybe make things worse.

This 2013 album turned out to be my favorite album of 2014.  This is in large part due to the fact that it speaks to me in a deeply personal way.  These songs are about a good many things, but I have tended to decipher the bulk of these as a message of support to someone in crisis.  The song “Control” addresses suicide directly.  Shedd pleas to a person on the verge by simply saying to them “don’t end it all tonight.”  It doesn’t get more direct than that, nor does it ever fail to send shivers down my spine.  This direct communication may be part of why this album has been so powerful for me.  Shedd conveys a comfortable environment that’s about appreciating those we love around us (“and I’ll miss you when you’re gone” – “Take a Ride”), and the memories that can carry us through the worst of times (“Boats,” “Million Pictures”), and by giving a genuine heart to heart plea to someone to not throw all of these things away, as in “Control” and “You’re No Fool,” her music and lyrics act as a guiding light to those of us who are genuinely in dark places.  She says the things that need to be heard – the things that more often than not are not ever conveyed.  How does one broach the subject of depression to their friends and family?  How does one ask for help?  How does one help someone in need?  It’s not as easy as it seems like it should be.

This record is not only lyrically direct, but also musically.  These songs are stripped down to mainly the twin acoustic guitars of Tracy Shedd and her husband James Tritten.  Their interplay is seamless.  Tritten plucks out clear, memorable, and fully realized guitar melodies – making the spare arrangements seem greater than the sum of their parts, yet not so much so that the personal nature of Shedd’s lyrics gets buried in the mix.  This album feels and sounds like a few really talented friends gathered right in front of you playing amazing songs.  Her choice of covers (The Magnetic Field’s early classic “Candy” and Sonic Youth’s breakthrough steamroller “Teenage Riot”) is remarkable as well.  These are songs that have always resonated with me and have provided strong memories, yet framed in this sparse environment “Teenage Riot” is like a brand new song. 

The quiet solitude of the opening “Sweet Talking” is a concise love song that covers the joy of being with a loved one and the hope for it to continue all the way till death in a meager two and a half minutes.  Likewise, the beautiful “Sing to Me” balances between both the closeness needed in life and the despair of death.  This dichotomy continues on “Friday Night at Einstein’s” – a story about losing oneself on the dance floor (reminding thematically of The Sundays’ flowing “She”) that is both life-affirming and lonely.  Elsewhere the lighter touch of the duet “All the Little Things” brightens the overall feel of the record, as does the chorus of the soul searching “Million Pictures,” and the summery and hummable “Broken Arrows,” who’s mantra of “you can die trying / or you can die with a broken heart” is still a rallying cry that resonates and reminds to keep on giving this shit show an effort.

This redo plus the strange letter review from January may together make this review a little more complete, but I’m afraid I’m still missing the mark (part of the reason in general why I may give this writing about music hobby a permanent rest).  Simply put, and probably all I’ve needed to say is: Arizona is an album that is humble and subtle, but one of great magnitude and impact.  I cannot recommend this with any greater enthusiasm.

Tracy Shedd "Broken Arrows"


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