Still the Birds
Blue Rock Texas/ www.DarrylPurpose.com
Frequently, I receive the opportunity to hear for the first time an artist at the peak of their powers. What often follows is a mad scramble of catalogue listening, spending more money on past recordings than I can ever hope to recoup via the modest remuneration received for a review.
Darryl Purpose has been making music for twenty-plus years, but I only heard his music earlier this spring when Still the Birds arrived unsolicited in my mailbox. Like other artists that I’ve come late to the dinner to discover—Eliza Gilkison fifteen or so years back, David G. Smith more recently—the immediate benefit is a ‘new favourite’ what has a legacy of recordings to explore.
The first thing one notices about Purpose is how much he sounds like James Taylor. Not a bad thing that, except one has to constantly remind oneself that they are listening to Darryl Purpose, and that can become a chore. It isn’t like one is listening to bad James Taylor, ‘cause it is good…but, Purpose deserves more.
Purpose, and his songwriting partner Paul Zollo, have a keen awareness of song craft, and their tunes often take us to places we hadn’t expected.
“Hours in A Day” is one of the album’s finest songs, and one is drawn to the protagonist—a reluctant escapee of the American draft of the 60s. Wonderful little scenes unfold during the just-beyond-spoken singing of the song: LBJ punching his father, the contemplation of being a prisoner of war, and his despair of living “under a bridge at Reindeer Lake.” The listener invests in this story-song, and is that much more blindsided when, returning to the US after amnesty, he climbs a water tower with a loaded gun. This is an amazing performance, highlighted by Carrie Elkin’s vocal contributions, Joel Guzman’s organ, and Daran DeShazo’s guitar. Beautiful, troubling stuff.
Purpose and Gilkison trade verses of devotion within “The Meaning of My Love,” and within its whimsical lines one suspects more is occurring than we are party to, not the least because of mysterious lyrics. Among the litany of protestations of adoration are chicken wire, helicopters, and brown grass—one isn’t sure why they love each other, but—much as John Prine does on occasion—the various incongruences make for a strong song.
“Baltimore” (which explores Edgar Allan Poe’s demise) and “Sheena’s Dog” (a metaphor, I think) are a pair of songs that highlight the beautiful marriage of songwriting and performance. Poetic use of rhythmic language with jazzy-folk music touches, lovely background vocals (from BettySoo) and various percussion effects via Eric Darken and mesmerizing rhythm courtesy of bassist Roscoe Beck combine to create songs that linger long after the stereo has cooled.
Darryl Purpose’s Still the Birds is a satisfying listen. It fits the bill for warm, solo evenings on the deck, languid moments with the lights turned low, and bright days of driving. As much as it reminds me of James Taylor (it’s inescapable, I’m sorry) what keeps flitting through my wee brain is Rickie Lee Jones’ Pirates and Magazine, confessional, ambitious albums which endure long after their release date.
[The packaging design by A Man Called Wrycraft is a bonus.]