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Listening room (album reviews)

thankful, Michael Farr (4elements music, 2003)

In the spirit of the holiday season — that time of giving and forgiving — guest reviewer Nicholas Holt and I decided to bring a little cheer into that most dismal of corners: acoustic folk.

This week, we review local hotshot folkster Michael Farr‘s full-length studio debut, thankful. Not only is our choice thematically appropriate to the season, but it’s one of very few folk albums Nicholas and I have been able to listen to in a single sitting, without having to take frequent breaks of The Clash or Public Enemy to keep us going.

Happy folkin’ holidays, all.

Steve Shanafelt: “This album was produced by Bil VornDick, who has produced an ungodly number of Grammy-nominated albums, as well as eight Grammy winners. You can really tell, too: There’s a very rich, layered texture to the music backing Farr’s voice. It’s much better than I’d expect from a typical local folk album.”

Nicholas Holt: “Yeah, the pedal steel and other instruments are well used. Having some Nashville session musicians backing him makes a lot of difference. As far as Farr’s own contributions go, I hear a lot of Gordon Lightfoot, and some Michael Hedges. He also sort of sounds like Chuck Brodsky. Of course, there’s almost a specific genre of singer/songwriters who sort of sound like Chuck Brodsky.”

SS: “There’s also a little Paul Simon in there, as well as an awful lot of Cat Stevens. I like the fact that Farr’s not trying to hide the influences. He even covers [Stevens’] ‘Moonshadow’ on this album.”

NH: “He does have a nice voice. The more I listen to it, the more I like his voice.”

SS: “There’s a real feeling of joy to his music — a genuine kind of upbeat feeling — and that helps keep it from seeming saccharine. Farr has actually been a traveling and quasi-homeless musician for a good chunk of time, and you get the sense that he is actually thankful to be where he is in his life. When he sings about being thankful for the coffee in his cup in his song ‘thankful,’ I don’t think he’s making some elaborate metaphor. Yet, it’s a catchy-enough tune that it would [be] great for a Sanka jingle.”

NH: “His lyrics are not saying that everything will be fine. You can’t be thankful until you’re aware that you can lose something … or that you have already lost it. That’s key to why this music doesn’t bother me like some of the other local folk I’ve heard.”

SS: “There’s a hint of darkness and melancholy to a few of Farr’s songs, which makes the whole ‘thankful’ theme stand out a bit more. The contrast works well.”

NH: “Right. Like in ‘Carolina,’ which — if I’m not mistaken — is about a one-night stand with an ex-hooker. That kind of content actually makes me interested in reading the lyrics — which, again, is more than I can say for some of the other local folk albums I’ve heard.”

SS: “It’s really easy to take Michael Farr’s music seriously. The whole album feels like it’s really been crafted to make a cohesive sound, and the songs seem like they’ve actually got something to say. I think you could even find a little conveyed wisdom in there if you looked for it. I could easily see recommending this album to people who like the mellow-Asheville brand of folk music.”

NH: “Unfortunately, this album cover is unforgivable. It’s the reason you should have to not only register your copy of PhotoShop, but take a test to show that you have a certain amount of aesthetic skill just to be allowed to use it.”

SS: “It does look like little more than a promotional head-shot with some dashed-out font laid over the top. It’s not very artful, granted, but at least Farr actually looks thankful in the photo. I give the album a 3.5 out of 5.”

NH: “I actually enjoyed listening to him, so I’d also give it a 3.5 out of 5.”

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