©2017 Curlock and Jalaiso Music, BMI

Where the Winter Ends

Finally free of the rattle in my chest
stealing the oxygen I had to strain to collect
finally free of the rattle in my chest
it's like an obligation, lifted

Finally free of the rattle in my mind
bleeding the self-belief from every verse that i rhyme
finally free of the rattle in my mind
suddenly gravity has shifted

Plant my foot in the dirt
and race to the Sound
give my will to the path
wherever long it's bound
all my doubts they blur and fade
like yesterday's skywriting
I'm caught up in the wake
of a moment that's flying

Here's where the fever breaks
the still after the shakes
a new morning remakes me

Here's where the winter ends
"become" blooming from "pretend"
"because" cannot contain me

What If

What if we didn’t punish ourselves for what we’re not
stopped wishing for some other heaven than the one we’ve got?
What if you didn’t try to impress someone lost in your past
and let the long dialogue with your regrets fall silent at last?


What if we weren’t looking through
a haze of memories and dreams that won’t come true
if I was blind to the expectations
what would I see, and what would you?


Light from the ground throws our shadows on the blue
turn the world upside down and I remember how to love you


What if we were an arrow that landed wide of the mark
how long would that first good intention define who we are?

What if I were to tell you that miss was as close as we’ll get
how long would the song in your heart remain a secret kept?


This Room

This room was made to make you
look and feel your worst
motel mirror, bare fluorescents
it’s not a room for charitable guesses
about the suitcase they dragged outside
to the cruiser with the flashing lights
that pulled away past the liquor store and into the night


This room was made to make you
second-guess your direction, hesitate,
and call into question the reservation
that yielded a quarter-hearted smile and a key
and a map photocopied into un-readability


This room sees a vacancy
when it tries to read your eyes
but that’s just the dark of a moonless night
on a long stretch of highway miles


This room was made to make you
wonder if you’re worth less than you hoped
hard water, lousy soap, barely furnished, barely clean,
just a rude regression to a meaner mean


More

The evening’s filled to overflowing with rose-colored light
as if the dreamer who imagines us is almost awake
we’re combing through confetti, trying to make sense of life
hoping the words we piece together are not a mistake


Looking for faces in pictures of Mars
for a moment’s quite grace in a noisy bar
we heard half of a rhyme
and there has to be more


Driving home together through the Long Island night
I’m trying to read the silence and the smiles you discard
was it fate that led me to you, on a course marked in parallels and primes
or the lazy afterimage of some haphazard star


Tell me there’s been a signal buried in the static all this time
tell me the answer’s hiding in plain sight and we’ve been snow blind
tell me I’ll wake up beside you every morning for a long, long, long time
tell me we’re half of a story, half of a rhyme,
and there has to be more


You've Lost Your Way

Sounds like the final repercussions
of a dead beat dragged out way too long
the landlord isn’t singing any praises
to the sheriff standing on the lawn
you don’t say a word
piling the guts of your life
like so much garbage at the curb
can’t meet the going rate
can’t speak the shibboleth
so they drive you from the gate
and they tell you
you’ve lost your way


Four years old
with a smile that radiated
with the undiluted joy of all creation
she waved at me from the park one fine morning
and I gladly returned her salutation
but the next passerby told the child
“if you can’t speak the language
go back to where you came from”
Now who’s lost their way?


You Are My Raincloud

You are my raincloud, my only raincloud
you bring me shade and shadow on a bright summer day
when the sun fumes across the pale, bruised heavens
in a conflagration of anger
the laughter of your cool rain
is the answer to my only prayer


Don’t take it away
don’t take it away
don’t take away your love


You are my darkness, my only darkness
and a respite for my eyes when the argent winter stabs at my sight
and the snow, like an arrogant lie
obscures the earth ‘neath a insult of whiteness
you bring down the black, blessed night
and a vision of spring’s colorful dream


Five Feet to the Meter

Five feet to the meter boys
time and space have grown elastic
we’ve sailed beyond the edge of consciousness
and I’m dreaming in iambic


I find it takes a pretty cooked shuffle to deal in absolutes
so I encourage you not to take what’s said between us
as proof of any universal truth
go ahead, if it comforts you to feel that cosmic forces
are operating in cahoots
but as for me, despite the words on my degree,
philosophy has never been my strongest suit


To some, these songs they fall in heavy clusters
fat grapes already sweetened by the dozen on the vine
others spend forever polishing that perfect apple
looking for a slightly sweeter rhyme
me, I change the oil, fill the tank, and re-inflate that right front tire
try to keep the old jalopy moving down the road
for another couple hundred thousand miles


Set off on my morning run
moving down the street, fast and steady
passed a woman who I’d never met
she started, and said, “is it eight o’clock already?”
how many secret other lives we each must lead, never knowing
how many times I’ve hitched a ride inside a song
and never thought to ask where it was going


Cool Night, Quiet Place

Heat from the fire on my hands and face
I’m grateful for a cool night in a quiet place
a cool night in a quiet place

I’m lost in cereal-box psychiatry self-diagnosis
after all these years I still don’t know if it’s you or me
that’s making me so crazy


You came hardwired with that post-war frugality
guarding cracked and yellowed dishes like your own mortality
you keep everything: scraps of paper, bits of string,
and a head full of sordid grievances from a past life
like an expired inventory that you can’t move at any price
couldn’t give away to save your life


You would have us drain the ocean
revive each drowned emotion from the deep
each wreck on every reef
I would rather cut the anchor
let it sink with all our anger down through the blue
and sail on with you
without the past always in view


Like two weary ships come through a bitter storm
our hulls are leaking and our sails are badly worn
and the who and why doesn’t matter to me any more
we’ll find no sweet resolution rising from the sea
by charting powder burns of blame back through the family tree
what’s needed now are gentle winds and calmer seas

 

track listing:

 

where the winter ends
what if
this room
strange sat(i)ellite
more
you've lost your way
you are my raincloud
into a corner
five feet to the meter
cool night, quiet place

 

Released 2017. ℗ 2017 Curlock & Jalaiso Music, BMI. © 2017 Curlock & Jalaiso Music, BMI. All songs written by Jean-Paul Vest except “You Are My Raincloud” by Jean-Paul Vest and Shawn Murray. Produced and Recorded by Jean-Paul Vest and Jim Watts. Additional Recording by: Pemberton Roach, Bob Stander, Steve Schiltz, Tom Griffith, Matt Darriau, Fernando Sanchez, Pam Aronoff, and Jonny Flaugher. Mixed by Jim Watts at moxymusic. Mastered by Gene Paul at G&J Audio. Musicians: Jean-Paul Vest, Shawn Murray, Pemberton Roach, Bob Stander, Jim Watts, Pam Aronoff, Gwendolyn Vest, Nicholas Vest, Camryn Quinlan, Scott Doherty, Aaron Palmadessa, Fernando Sanchez, Martha Trachtenberg, Tom Griffith, Jon Preddice, Matt Darriau, Jonny Flaugher, Michael Jerome, Steve Schiltz. Cover art by Tony Ingrisano

 

 

 

 

 

"It's a rare and wondrous moment…" The Daily Vault, Jason Warburg

It’s a rare and wondrous moment when a song reaches so deep inside and resonates so strongly that it sends waves of tingling “chicken skin” dancing back and forth from my shoulder blades to the top of my scalp. This happened not once, but twice over the course of my first couple of listens to the new album from Last Charge Of The Light Horse, the vehicle for the songs, voice and guitar of Jean-Paul Vest.

Race To The Sound is Vest’s fourth album (plus an EP) under the Last Charge moniker, and first since 2014’s superb Nine Kinds Of Happy. He remains one of the most prodigiously talented singer-songwriters I have ever encountered, a poet who sets his striking words to imaginative roots-rock that is all substance and no flash. Vest’s songs stun you with subtlety and wow you with precision; every instrument, note, and voice is placed with forethought and purpose.

CD Baby recommends Last Charge if you like Wilco, XTC and Bob Dylan, three artists I’ve rarely seen grouped together, and yet I have to tip my hat to the algorithm, even if the list feels incomplete without Vest’s acknowledged idol George Harrison. His songs are all at once lyrical and unassuming, shimmery and earthy, bracingly direct and fearlessly experimental.

Ever the insightful observer, Vest opens the new album with a song about songwriting, employing the flu as a metaphor for creative drought. “Finally free of the rattle in my chest / stealing the oxygen I had to strain to collect… Finally free of the rattle in my mind / bleeding the self-belief from the every verse that I rhyme.” Musically, “Where The Winter Ends” is pure imagination, opening over electronic percussion, adding strummed electric guitar, sharp interjections of flute and trumpet (from the next generation of talent, Nicholas and Gwendolyn Vest), shakers and tambourine, and gorgeous, gospel-tinged harmony vocals by Camryn Quinlan. Every note and vocal inflection is exactly where it should be; the way Vest sings just two words—“obligation lifted”—tells an entire story in six spare syllables. Toward the end, the song coalesces around a deft, powerful description of the experience of creation: “All my doubts they blur and fade / like yesterday’s skywriting / I’m caught up in the wake / of a moment that’s flying.”

And then there are nine more.

“What If,” which Vest previewed on social media last year, is a stunner, a rumination on possibility and fate set to gorgeous chiming guitars, with the ace Last Charge rhythm section of Shawn Murray (drums) and Pemberton Roach (bass) setting the pace as the song gains momentum, adding strings, electronic percussion and harmony vocals. “Light from the ground throws our shadows on the blue,” he sings as the music surges, “turns the world upside down and I remember how to love you.” Chicken skin, every time. At 2:30 Vest adds little slide guitar filigrees right out of the Harrison toolkit, played by guest Aaron Palmadessa, launching an already spectacular number into the stratosphere. Which is what Vest does, again and again: he takes subject matter that can feel deceptively simple and elevates it with his craftsmanship and imagination. And really, what is simple about the human heart?

Next is a song about a motel room, which sounds mundane, but in Vest’s hands becomes a musical rendering of a Hopper painting, “Nighthawks” relocated to a Super 8 where the occupants of one room are being dragged out to a waiting police cruiser while the traveler next door is rethinking his entire life. “This room was made to make you / second-guess your direction, hesitate / and call into question the reservation that yielded a quarter-hearted smile and a key / and a map photocopied into unreadability.” You can feel the ennui of the night clerk and smell the must in the curtains, and then a chorus of harmony vocalists enters (Martha Trachtenburg, Tom Griffith, and Pam Aronoff) to play off of Vest’s lead vocal and the skittering, steady-on Roach-Murray rhythm section and you’re lost inside a haunting, Springsteenesque film.
Two instrumental tracks function as musical aperitifs between courses of songs here, the first being “Strange Sat(i)ellite,” an eerie, jazzy duet between Vest’s piano and son Nicholas’s trumpet, until Jonathan Preddice’s cello and Murray’s drums enter and it gets even more unsettled, and unsettling.

Next up after that entertaining interlude is “More,” all shimmery, rippling 12-string guitar notes at first until Vest’s voice enters in his lower register, anchoring a stunning love song. When the drums and Pam Aronoff’s gorgeous harmony vocals arrive, the songs begins a steady, inexorable build to an eruptive solo from Bob Stander, lead guitarist in Last Charge’s core lineup. And that’s just the music; the lyric is equally powerful and sublime, juxtaposing the biggest questions life has to offer (“Tell me there’s been a signal buried in the static all this time”) alongside the simplest, most fundamental human desires (“Tell me I’ll wake up beside you every morning for a long, long time”)

The mood shifts again with “You’ve Lost Your Way,” a spare, haunting number featuring just Vest’s guitar, spooky electronic percussion, and Murray’s stuttering, unruly drums. The lack of bass amplifies the sense of dislocation in the lyric, leaving you to ponder whether the title refrain refers to homeless people, immigrants, or the nation itself. The answer, it seems, is yes.

“You Are My Raincloud” inverts the standard imagery of love as bright sunshine, a song that starts out lilting and steadily unravels as Vest sings of craving the darkness and tension in a challenging relationship. Roach’s athletic bass line is a highlight here, as is Stander’s nervous-breakdown solo, while the lyric offers some of Vest’s bleakest and most penetrating poetry: “You are my darkness, my only darkness / and a respite for my eyes when the argent winter stabs at my sight.”

Instrumental interlude number two is really just a vignette, Vest tinkering with a synthesizer and drum machine for a bare 1:22, but entertaining at that. Next on the menu, “Five Feet to the Meter” is another song about songwriting and the lived experience of a creator. “We’ve sailed beyond the edge of consciousness / and I’m dreaming in iambic,” he sings, an apt description of the unencumbered creative imagination. Mid-song Vest adds clarinet, a rather ordinary instrument that feels absolutely exotic in this context.

Moody closer “Cool Night, Quiet Place” rides a steady, pulsing guitar riff which repeats and repeats, pushing the poetry forward as Vest entreats a family member to let go of old grudges. “You keep everything: scraps of paper, bits of string / and a headful of sordid grievances from a past life / like an expired inventory you can’t move at any price / couldn’t give away to save your life.” It’s another instantly recognizable character, sketched in a handful of lines.

Overall, Race To The Sound feels like a milestone of sorts, marking the seamless incorporation of the electronic elements that dominated 2011’s Curve EP and decorated 2014’s Nine Kinds Of Happy into Vest’s core sound of rangy, thoughtful roots-rock. Much like his lyrics, which repeatedly subvert both clichés and expectations, the music that accompanies them is full of tension and quirks right up until, when it needs to, it rocks. Vest and co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Jim Watts make all the pieces fit together with crisp yet organic-feeling production.

For a summation I’ll turn to Vest’s Last Charge bandmate Pemberton Roach, who recently described his friend’s work like this: “super-intense, exquisitely crafted, deeply thoughtful, and just plain beautiful music… I know more than a few people who consider him to be a genius. I'm not exaggerating when I say I consider him one of the all-time great ‘unknown’ American artists and believe his name should be mentioned in the same breath as legendary purveyors of ‘thinking man’s’ music like Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, and Lloyd Cole… If you’re in the mood for music that rewards repeated listenings and favors art over commerce, I highly recommend this album.”

Amen.

Rating: A