The Diver’s Curse
Jeff Black. Bill Callahan. Steve Coffey. Great Lake Swimmers. Brock Zeman. Eliza Gilkyson.
If those names mean anything to you, and you like what those names mean to you, you are advised to search out BD Harrington, an Irish-Canadian who splits his time between London and Toronto.
“This ain’t no town, it’s a thumbnail sketch of hell.” “Boxers Hit Harder”
I don’t recommend this album as driving music. Like much of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s music of the past ten years, The Diver’s Curse is so all-encompassing that one may find oneself concentrating a bit too intently on the coming lyrical gifts, and forgetting about the oncoming traffic.
“Your fears are waves and your fears are stone, in grief you will come to praise.” “Resusci-Anne”
A penetrating collection of songs, Harrington’s approach to roots music is a blend of poetic influence—lyrical and musical—that is appealing and lasting. I’m not going to attempt to interpret lines such as “The dress you’ve got on is pigeon blood/torn up the sides and splattered with mud/you’re spitting out your sermonettes/you’re saying things, girl, that I know you’ll regret” (“Black Waves”) because they are a (far) bit beyond me, but the encompassing atmosphere is so pleasant (in a disturbed manner) that I have found myself spending many hours with The Diver’s Curse over the past two months.
“You’re a case study in light, dreaming in your bed tonight, you ride your shadow ‘cross the sea.” “Nightingale Lane”
I’m just not sure what to write about the album, and that failing is perhaps a testament to my limitations as a writer. But damn, “dancing about architecture” has never made more sense.
“In the early morning eye of the beholder.” “Early Morning Eye”
Harrington (guitars, piano, organ, as well as vocals) is joined by (unfamiliar to me) Kel McKeown (drums,) Adam Richens (lead guitar,) and Tom Goldsmith (bass) as well as several others including (ah, a musician with whom I am familiar) Don Kerr (mandolin, cello, accordion.) They create a tapestry of music equal parts VU and Cowboy Junkies. It is beautiful, of course, embracing and certainly challenging.
“An air-tight dream of permanence in a place so serene, hushed and immense.” “One Match Left”
Harrington borrows from poets Kenneth Patchen and Charley Causley for inspiration, but creates songs that are entirely his own: I’ve never heard anything quite like “Contamana,” and I’ve been around a bit. “Sleepy John” is a recrimination of responsibility; “Apple Cart” challenges our ownership of the past. “Little Birds” is a suiting farewell. Water is recurring, its image providing metaphor and allusion throughout. Andrew Sweeny’s “In Your Arms” is a welcome meditation.
“There’s a memory that I keep but do not trust, here beside me under long-settled dust.” “Contamana”
Here’s what I’ve decided: some albums should just be listened to, track-by-track. BD Harrington’s The Diver’s Curse is one of them.