Wednesday, January 23, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1221: The Weepies

Sometimes an album can sit in my collection for years before the dice gods say I should roll them, and sometimes they get called upon within the first week or two. This next album is one of the latter.

Disc 1221 is… Say I Am You
Artist: The Weepies

Year of Release: 2006

What’s up with the Cover? Two birds meet and fall in love. It is all very dear.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Casey played one of their songs and I liked what I heard. That song is on this album!

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Weepies albums, but they are both so new to me it is hard to stack them up. Because I enjoyed it a lot, I’ll say this one is the better of the two but I may change my mind. It is my blog, after all.

Ratings:  4 stars

Is ‘twee’ ever a good thing? Before I heard “Say I Am You” I would have been inclined to say no, but the Weepies do such a good job of it they made me rethink that position.

The Weepies are husband and wife team Steve Tannen and Deb Talan and together they make a folk-pop record that is as light, airy and sweet as a perfectly baked pastry. This is a record made for sunshine and ocean breezes. It is good for a walk in the rain as well, although you should ideally be wearing bright pink or yellow gumboots.

“Say I Am You” goes for a very stripped down approach (there is only two people in the band, after all) with a lot of songs just Deb and Steve singing along to a single strummed guitar, or maybe a bit of string or piano in the background. Less is more here, because too much business would interfere with the simple soulful picture the songs create for you.

Lyrically there is no mighty literary prowess. The songs are light on metaphor, and the metaphors that are there are well-worn or generic. In this way, “Say I Am You” reminded me of a modern pop album, where the writing is kept very high level to encourage universal appeal. Over a third of the songs here have been used in the soundtracks of movies or TV shows, so the universal appeal thing is definitely working for them.

However, there is more going on than just this. While there isn’t a lot of new ground being covered, the Weepies pull it together in a touching and resonant way. The melodies of the songs have a sing-a-long charm and feel timeless and compelling. Talan’s voice in particular has a good mix of hurt and sugar. It isn’t all-powerful like Patty Griffin and it doesn’t bowl you over emotionally like Emmylou Harris. It draws you in and gives you comfort, like a call from a friend on a Sunday afternoon when you’re feeling down. Maybe there’s no better example than this line from “Painting by Chagall”:

“Sometimes rain that’s needed falls
We float like two lovers in a painting by Chagall.”

Is that all a bit precious? Yes, it is, but somehow it works when you hear it – and I don’t even like Chagall that much.

I admire “Say I Am You” in part because they don’t mess around. The songs have a message – both lyrically and melodically – and they get right into it without a lot of intros and outros. This is rare, with a lot of indie music, which can tend toward half-formed thoughts and a lot of added clangor and distraction in place of completing them. Here the songs are quick (nothing longer than 4:13 with “Suicide Blonde” clocking in at a mayfly-like 1:36) but they live a lifetime in their brief time between your ears.

Your enjoyment of this record will be directly proportional to how willing you are to overlook the sugarcoating. Even the sad songs seem weirdly comforting. “Nobody Knows Me At All” is a song of isolation, but it also creates a community of the misunderstood. Kind of like Emily Dickinson did when she wrote:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!

The Weepies get this, and they get you too. If they don’t get you, then at least they make you realize you’re not alone in your aloneness.

There is a lot of music out there about uncertainty and doubt, but very little of it is wrapped in an embrace of hope. And that sugarcoating might appear dear, but once in a while we need a community of the pale and wan, rather than isolation. I enjoyed letting the Weepies might make me feel uncertain, while they simultaneously gave me a great big hug to let me know everything was going to be alright.

Best tracks: Gotta Have You, World Spins Madly On, Citywide Rodeo, Painting by Chagall, Nobody Knows Me At All, Not Your Year, Slow Pony Home

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