“Radio, play me into town,” is the request of local singer-songwriter Paul Edelman on Stranger Things and Truer Words, his February release. The album — highly deserving of radio attention — is a pitch-perfect collection, inspired largely by travel — in both the exterior and interior sense. The 10 tracks stitch dusty Americana and gritty folk-rock with jangly guitar and the kind of songwriting that hits sharp and sticks strong as a stubborn splinter. In the very best way.
“New Wheels” is the kind of twangy, dusky sonic expanse in which you can lose yourself. “I’m almost at the horizon and I’ll hold myself to what I find, but I’ll run out of road before I get you out of my mind,” Edelman sings. Steel guitar reinforces the track’s wistful romance.
“Chase It Down” opens like a kind of talking blues and then expands into an almost mystical melody underscored by rhythmic finger strumming, well-matched by tasteful percussion. The organ (by Steve Fordham, formerly of Mavis Staples’ band) floats, ethereal through the background, more breezy than funky.
Edelman has a unique singing style. His is not a wispy or delicate vocal. He may well be most at home on the stomping honky-tonk of “Friend You Need,” his delivery a winking, G-dropping, country-fried intonation. But even at his most rootsy — perhaps the sweetly stripped-down folk number “Campfire Song” — there’s a supple refinement just beyond Edelman’s rough exterior. He’s the modern cowboy poet, the troubadour in Carhartts and workbooks.
“The Ballad of Lizzie Mainford” aptly synthesizes that roughness and delicacy in a story-song. It’s hard not to fall in sync with the track’s easy groove, lulled by the chugging beat and cool, aerial organ tones. Again, the use of keys is inspired. THis is not the kind of album on which you’d expect to find those keyboard parts, and yet it would be a completely different project without the prudent addition of that instrument. In “Lizzie Mainford,” as much as the lyrics spin the engaging tale of a woman on the run (away from something or to it is hard to say), it’s Edelman’s use of white space and silence, both as a writer and a singer — that really elevates the song. That and the train-on-tracks chug of the hushed chorus: “It’s a ride, it’s a ride, it’s a ride, it’s a ride.”
A number of tracks — “Lizzie Mainford” and the brilliantly-named “Trouble is a Stray” — nod to Bob Dylan’s word-dense brand of folk. Edelman excels at this style, making it more of his own thing than straight-forward derivation. But the album smartly shows the songwriter’s full hand. It wraps with the twilit “Daddy Says,” a lullaby of sorts. Hand drum burbles and a gravelly low vocal compliments the song’s dad-isms: “Daddy says you never get older now, daddy says you always stay the same. Sometimes it’ll tap you on the shoulder, son. Sometimes it just rains on your game.”
The simple warmth of the track belies the complexity of its composition and emotionalism — but that’s Edelman’s charm. He wraps deep thought in the cozy flannel of his contagious song-craft. While Stranger Things and Truer Words stops just shy of being hooky, it manages to be as instantly-familiar as it is unexpected.
Paul Edelman plays The Westville Pub on Saturday, April 26, at 10 p.m. $5.
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