Until now, best Carbon Leaf song? was easy (War Was in Color). Now, not so much. CL lyrics in the past have had a spotty quality to them. Flickers of brilliance bruised by assonant compromises. For every In a window back home/A blue star is traded for gold there was an I will not leave this pulse alone/Though it may take the long way home. Huh?
And here we have an album with several songs at the same level as WWIC. Songwriting still improving after 17 years together? That alone is worthy of the sort of recognition you get from reviews on obscure personal blogs with easily a half-dozen readers. No problem, guys. You’re very welcome.
Miss Hollywood. Catchy pop song. No, it’s not about a boy in love with a starlet. He’s in love with the dream. Miss Hollywood is a metaphor, get it? Some people.
Golden dreams flow like water
And the water always wins
For good or bad, once you let it in.
Good stuff. And my current favorite lyric, because I’m a sucker for any song with physics in, parallax as a metaphor for the persistence of dreams:
Up in the sky,
A star’s just a star,
But funny thing, when looking up,
It seems to follow you wherever you are.
Indecision. Yes, I’m doing these out of order. Trying to be just a little nonlinear, work with me. Good album-opener, great road song (because it works even if the road is metaphorical). Fantastic show-opener, especially in Richmond.
Let’s get to my favorite, Lake of Silver Bells. Possibly the best chorus ever written in the world of rock and roll. Song structure has always been a CL strength, and this one feels perfect. Great intro/verse 1, sequencing of pre-chorus/chorus, delayed vocal harmonies to build intensity. Nothing that hasn’t been done before, but the sum is greater.
It does make me sad that the best Guster song ever is by Carbon Leaf. Yeah, it sounds very Guster, and not just for the falsetto whole notes on an e vowel. Carter’s got that huge jangly reverb thing going on as well. Plus a lot of, what are those, major second intervals? We need to get Guster and Carbon Leaf on Ships & Dip 7, and see what they can do together as some version of Acid Wish!
Light flickers by,
A hundred suns behind the trees
Melts us in a lullaby,
Our eyelids are like movie screens.
And we close our eyes
And feel the warmth come into frame.
We close our eyes
Until our dreams become one and the same.
Solid poetic imagery in the same verse as a geeky reference to filmmaking. It doesn’t get any better than that. And it may be just that I’m a sucker for a non-sledgehammered message, but the twist in the song really makes it for me. Leading is lonely. What you need’s not just the dream. Seize the day. Just do it.
What Have You Learned? More good writing, in a much less serious song. Plus, the little cowbell figure after verse 4 is the only cure for my fever.
Snowfall Music doesn’t do so much for me. Except while driving. Great driving song, on a long straight stretch of road. CL used to be quite a bit more trad-Irish in their songwriting; this one reminds me of more modern-Irish, if you know what I mean. Very Edge-y guitar.
If you buy the CD from Amazon, you get two bonus tracks: Tip Toe, which is okay, but nothing special, and an acoustic version of Lake of Silver Bells. Which by the way is two semitones lower than the electric version, so watch that if you’re trying to learn it. It’ll put some other lyric on your break. Just sayin’.
In the past, I’ve often felt CL used too much repetition. Come up with a clever hook, and then play the heck out of it. Think of the riffs in Grey Sky Eyes or Toy Soldiers, for example. I don’t get that with this album. The riff in Mexico is very repetitive, but that’s okay because it’s the texture of the sea, not a hook. Or anyway that’s what I tell myself. Whatever. Anyway, I like this album better musically (even though no pennywhistle! Waaa!) as well as lyrically than earlier ones. By this point in their career, most bands would have settled into a very comfortable and well-worn groove. Which can be okay, but this I really like.