Timothy William Walsh is a singer/songwriter from Boston with an impressive talent for
melody who recorded
How We Spend Our Days (Made, 1999) by himself,
playing an arsenal of instruments.
his carefully assembled pop ditties
(Drunk and Poor, How We Spend Our Days,
The New North American Friction,
Silent Movies, Fear Of Dancing)
rarely falter. His vocal style changes all the time, from a Curtis Mayfield
wail to a John Lennon whine. His true voice seems to be the
falsetto of The Polite Way to Rob a Bank.
The arrangement is mostly stripped down, but occasionally rises to the occasion,
like in the almost baroque Border Patrol.
Blue Laws (Truckstop, 2001) proves that the first album was no accident.
Walsh adds more instruments to his toolbox and proceeds to construct small
wonders of musical engineering. Again, both his strengths and his weaknesses
lie in his melodies, because
Walsh, unlike Stephen Merritt, is very
derivative of the kings of pop but he also beats them at their own game.
The first impact with Walsh's melodies is that he is rising from the dead
the worst nightmares of easy listening (Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Elton John).
Nightmares of Eleanor Rigby assail you when you hear the string
arrangement for the mellow Beatles-ian ode Kudos For The Player.
But that's only the surface. Walsh is a gifted melodist, and can't help
ridiculing the pop classics with far better tunes. There's a human being behind
the tune, though.
Case in point:
the melody of Old Fashioned Way Of Speaking, sung in a pedestrian
falsetto, will produce visions of Lennon in hell torturing the damned with
repeated encores of Across the Universe. But the song is punctuated
by an organ that comes out of Procol Harum's Bach imitations, and is closed
by a touching piano-driven jam. The overall effect is of melancholy
inertia and acute introspection, not of mere pretention.
Other songs dispense altogether with pop and go straight to the core of
The pensive, bluesy The Wages Of Dying Is Love
(echoes of David Crosby's psychedelic
If I Could Only Remember My Name and of
Neil Young's depressed Tonight's The Night)
and the Nick Drake-ian whisper
Lions And Tigers And Bears decrease vital functions to the minimum,
to a few guitar tones at a dying pace.
A sleepy, doleful piano motif sustains the Tom Waits-ian dejection of
Everybody Knows This Is No Fair.
This group of songs best introduces and summarizes Walsh the artist.
The change of pace with the orchestral Gullwatching and the hard-rocking
Top Of The Food Chain is not entirely welcome.
It breaks a sequence that was
becoming magic and destroys whatever intimate atmosphere Walsh had created.
Walsh still has to learn how to make a cohesive album, one that takes the
listener to another planet and keeps him there for one hour. And the cause
is that Walsh has not decided what he wants to be.
Walsh has the talent to become either a pop star or a formidable auteur in
the tradition of Neil Young and Tim Buckley. This is what they meant when
they invented the expression "embarrassment of riches".
Trying to be both at the same time may turn out
unsatisfying on both counts.
Headphones (Suicide Squeeze, 2005) is an all-electronic collaboration
Pedro The Lion's David Bazan and
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