BLAKE THOMAS – 40 Minutes
Thankfully, 40 Minutes runs to almost fifty, and not one minute is wasted. The title of Blake Thomas’s second release comes from its penultimate track, a sweetly strummed waltz that like every effort here is a near-flawless balance of excellent musicianship, his gorgeous, occasionally shiver-inducing voice and smart songwriting. In fact, the first two qualities are so often more than enough that the third frequently gets overlooked. He’s in fullNashville Skyline mode here, tossing off lines like “My head is a house I’d be ashamed to take you home to” (“Head is a House”) and “She staggers up stairwells in sun-soaked clothes” (slow burner “Kaitlyn”) like afterthoughts. There’s a perceptible quiver in his voice as he sings, “When I saw a shooting star / No idea what to wish for at all” (from “Shooting Star”); you don’t know if it’s because he has everything or nothing.
Chris Boeger on upright bass and Scott Beardsley on drums have the sort of telepathy inherent to a seasoned rhythm section and they are the rock-solid anchor of the disc. Their proficiency gives the rest of the band room to stretch. “I Have Captained My Heart” finally gives Shauncey Ali, excellent throughout, a chance to really fiddle, you know, like there’s one made of gold on the line, though his very worthy competition in this case is Adam Davis’s heartbreaking pedal-steel guitar. A steady rollin’ steam engine of a song, it could be a lost cut from Josh Ritter’s recent Animal Years. The track “Satisfied” finds Thomas echoing Steve Winwood’s “While You See a Chance” in both melody and lyrics. “If it’s all around you, take it,” he counsels over the shimmery violin/pedal-steel combo.
Thomas plays it straight for most of the disc, but track thirteen, “Smoke Break,” finds him expanding a bit. Abackmasked mumble flows into a melodica-and-pedal-steel haze as Thomas sing-songs a rhyme about wet matches and the perfect woman. A chorusless exercise, the end of each line is protracted in hypnotic fashion, which initially disguises a killer punchline: “Her body was an hourglass,” he observes before adding, “She was perfect to look at / But one half was empty all the same.” Ouch. Just over two minutes long, it has the quirky charm that made “Matt Ladish is on Fire,” his contribution to the 14 Songs in 28 Days compilation, so ridiculously entertaining.
Thomas is moving to Austin, breaking local music-lover and MAMA voters’ hearts, but he might be wise to take these songs on a tour of Ireland sometime. The similarly folk-leaning Ritter’s massive popularity there eventually bled over to the States. Like many Europeans, the Irish seem to appreciate our Americana more than we do.