The Day the River Sang
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2006, Volume 13, #2
Written by John Metzger
Despite the fact that he has spent the bulk of his career performing as a solo artist, John Stewart remains best-known for his work with the Kingston Trio, for taking The Monkees to the top of the singles chart with Daydream Believer, and for his anomalous hit Gold, which was produced by Lindsey Buckingham when Fleetwood Mac was in its prime. His latest endeavor The Day the River Sang isn’t likely to change anyone’s perception of him, but it is another in a long line of solidly delivered collections that makes the case that Stewart should be given more attention than he typically has received. Over the years, his baritone has mutated into a grizzled groan that falls somewhere between Kris Kristofferson’s southern drawl and Tom Waits’ barbed wire bruises, and the world-weariness that he exudes is perfectly suited to his tales of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Although it takes Stewart a while to gain his footing — for whatever reason, he adds a hokey backing chorus to the lazy lyricism of East of Denver and does a passable, if perfunctory, impression of Bruce Springsteen on the jangly Baby It’s You — he still is quite capable of packing an emotional punch when it’s most needed. On New Orleans, the devastatingly mournful ode to the Crescent City that he tucks smack into the center of the album, he truly finds his rhythm, and coming after The Day the River Sang’s off-kilter opening half, the song hits harder than usual. The subsequent Golden Gate Fields with its junkie gamblers and destitute jockeys is equally rattling, as is the exhausted disillusion that fills Broken Roses. It’s here within the crimson twilight of his characters’ unsettled lives that he seems most comfortable, and the realism that he displays allows him to draw a connection to his audience that is undeniable.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box