VARIOUS ARTISTS – MSG Made at Home Volume 2
While the first volume of Made at Home was a collection of home recordings from members of the Madison Songwriters Group, the second volume doesn’t take the name quite so literally. The “home” in this case is Madison and some of the area’s best studios (Smart, Paradyme, Audio for the Arts) are represented. The songs featured are as varied as the artists performing them, from sincere love songs (“I Wrote this Song for You” by Jennie and the Grayman, “Eleven Below” by Miriam Brousseau and Alan Jay Sufrin) to novelty (“The Dope She Was Doing” by Michael Gruber, “Piltdown Man” by West of Rome). Some of the names are well known; James Travis of Jim James and the Damn Shames contributes the bluesy “Sweet Love” (with its gratuitous but much-appreciated, Bob Dylan reference), while our own John Mayer-in-the-making Mark Croft delivers the super-catchy “Juliet.” Other artists like Kelsey Boyd and Nancy Rost have only recently started writing songs they are willing to let other people hear.
While the disc is long on earnest storytelling, there’s a shortage of real rockers. The group Albert not only has the best faux back-story (they’re four foster brothers adopted by the same family), they also have the catchiest song. “December” is as bouncy as anything the Barenaked Ladies have ever recorded. Jim Ness’s worshipful cataloging of his favorite electrics, “Any Guitar,” is Bon Jovi-lite. Aaron Nathans’ hook-filled “Iris,” despite its cringe-worthy pun “I’m no shrinking violet,” is a bubbly delight. Fittingly, the song was written in MSG president Eric Hester’s songwriting class offered at the UW. Hester also produced the track, and as the liner notes claim, “the result is pure pop.”
It is probably only surprising to me, given that I am an avowed non-fan of girl singers, that some of the set’s best tracks come from women. Clear Blue Betty’s Beth Kille, whose pure, lovely voice accounts for a lot of their charm, gives us the honest “Long Way Tonight.” Erin O’Brien’s smart “Stay Awhile,” with its confession that “Some girls want diamonds and forever / That’s just not my style / I guess I just don’t see the magic / Of walking down the aisle,” may be the best song on the anthology. She also sings half of the life meditation duet “Endlessly.” Performed with Dale Kidd (who wrote it), it takes its cues from Paul Simon’s similarly bittersweet “Slip Slidin’ Away.” They don’t all succeed; the usually appealing Amy Curl comes off as a bit whiny on the indecisive piano ballad “Rest Assured.” Of course, that assessment is quite likely just the unavoidable result of listening to anything fifteen times in a row. Otherwise why would I want to call “Eleven Below” syrupy, or label the admittedly witty “The Dope She Was Doing” smug?