Hayden- Us Alone review   Leave a comment

Hayden isn’t an artist I would normally feature at Fervor Coulee. While my definition of roots music isn’t really wide enough to include his brand of introspective ‘rock,’ last evening I was listening to Ohama’s The Potato Farm Tapes and realized that there isn’t much more ‘roots’ than a guy is sitting alone in the basement of a farmhouse making electronic music; in that spirit, Us  Alone just may be roots music.

untitledHayden- Us Alone Arts & Crafts

Forty hits some people harder than others. Based on his new album Us Alone, Hayden has passed the milestone no worse for wear.

Embracing the changes that occur with additional maturity, the dense atmosphere of Us Alone reveals the singer-songwriter at the apex of his talents. I’ve spent much of the last week listening to Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill, an over-the-top (and entirely tremendous) celebration of instrumental and recording indulgence. Us Alone plays in contrast- every bit as personal, perhaps even as indulgent- but with self-control constraining any thoughts of letting a groove evolve over twelve or twenty minutes.

The phrase ‘dad-rock’ has been used to describe this album, a phrase as meaningless and trite as MILF-grass would be. Rather, Hayden has crafted an album of (mostly) intense observations and literate descriptions and challenges that are as sweet, charming, and cutting as a Ron Sexsmith collection, with  tonal textures that bring to mind a Cowboy Junkies set.

The album begins with the gorgeous “Motel,” a song of love and devotion mixed with an audible backbone of desperation; that the central subject is dealing with a baby that won’t stop crying could be missed if one just allowed the sounds to wash through the speakers. It sounds beautifully simple, with percussion amplifying the fatigue of the couple seeking relief.

Equally beautiful is the aching “Just Give Me A Name,” a song of dealing with infidelity. The singer, while claiming he doesn’t want or need the details, the reasons for the incident in question, most obviously requires such to process and move past the betrayal. As with “Motel,” the instrumentation is layered while remaining quite wonderfully spare.

“Blurry Nights,” a duet with sister-in-law Lou Canon, fits in with the largely Hayden-alone produced bulk of the album while establishing a sense of community within the recording. That the song is an album highlight isn’t to detract from the quality present throughout Us Alone.

The album continues in this manner with each song taking the place of the previous as the next ‘favourite.’ That Hayden sustains listenable intensity throughout the album’s 45 minutes is admirable.

Bereft of commercial consideration or oversight, Us Alone grabs the listener and forces one to attend to the unfolding interpersonal drama (“Rainy Saturday”) and introspective minutiae (“Almost Everything”) through the power of language and instrumental ingenuity.

The album-proper closes with “Instructions,” a funereal lamentation of last wishes; that the desired musical accompaniment is The Band seems an entirely appropriate conclusion. The semi-obligatory  ‘hidden track’ features Hayden at the piano, singing additional Beatlesque observances of companionable seclusion; in this case, despite the presence of a chocolate bar deliveryman and reference to New Orleans, the song is less than its parts.

I haven’t followed Hayden closely over the years. I have a couple albums, purchased second hand, that I’ve listened to once or perhaps twice at the most. I heard him perform at a folk festival. I really have no investment in the guy. At least, I didn’t until Us Alone. Well deserving of Polaris Music Prize 2013 consideration.


Posted 2013 February 24 by Donald Teplyske in Uncategorized

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