One Camp Street
Cambridge MA 02140
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Moshe Benarroch
David Olney is the author of many memorable songs, including Brays, Jerusalem Tomorrow, If My Eyes Were Blind, and a dozen more. Though not very prolific, he's been recording since 1981 and is often viewed as an underrated writer. This is his sixth album on Philo/Rounder (and there are two more CDs released only in Europe).
The problem when listening to his CDs is that they encompass more styles than make a coherent album. You will find three masterpieces, a bunch of great songs and three songs you ask yourself what are they doing there? In this album, the three out of place songs are Camille, Basketball, and Baseball. Not that these songs are bad, but you just wonder why a guy who can write a song like Thirty Coins of Gold would want to record a mediocre rock'n roll song like Camille. Then again, if you are willing to go on, and you should, you will probably find in Olney one of the most original voices in American music. He ranks easily alongside Townes van Zandt (to whose memory this recording is dedicated), Guy Clark, Richard Dobson and Rex Foster.
Olney's music is more Texan than any other category, though he is from Nashville and some of his songs have been recorded by country artists. His lyrics have been compared to Charles Bukowsky. Bukowsky always tells the story of strange people and himself and gives his point of view, and Olney also tells wonderful stories of strange people but we never know what he thinks about it. He finds some internal logic in every character and in every situation.
In Barrymore Remembers, which is a duet with John Prine, he tells the story of a movie actor of the forties speaking about Garbo and Dietrich:
|Have I told you I was once quite a lady's man |
My suits were Italian.
My color vermillion.
My words soft as satin, the language of love.
The song is placed in a bar where Mr. Barrymore tells his story to the bartender, who gives him a positive feedback and then pours another scotch.
In Robert Ford and Jesse James we find Jesse James speaking of the crazy things he did in his youth, and also regreting the beautiful whore Bob wanted to make love to and that he cut:
|Now I am sorry that I cut her. |
It truly was a pity.
Hey, Bob, What was her name,
that little whore in Kansas City?
In this song we find all Olney's greatness convincing you that you are in that little bar in Kansas, He's aided by incredible accordion work by Garth Hudson (of The Band), swinging like a French street player.
Hudson is also featured on keyboards in the best song on this disc, Thirty Coins of Gold. The story Olney tells is of Leonardo da Vinci looking for someone to act as Judas in his painting of "The Last Supper." Nobody wants to be Judas for any amount of money.
Death, True Love, Lonesome Blues, and Me is a song told as a medieval play with death, true love and lonesome blues being the actors and fighting among themselves.
The music on this CD goes from the solo guitar to a full six member band, and most of these songs are more on the rock side than in Olney's previous albums. The playing of Garth Hudson (accordion, keyboards, saxophone) gives the album a sense of focus and profoundity which adds quite a bit to Olney's songs.
If you are a convinced Olney lover you will want Real Lies. It is as good as any of his previous releases, and that's saying a lot. If you want to explore Olney for the first time this works to start out with. I only wish that Philo would release a compilation of his best songs. I think this could be the event of the year, and it is more than justified for an artist of the caliber of David Olney.
A technical remark: The booklet comes with the lyrics in it, which is great, but what is even better is that they have put with each title the number of the track. This seems to be very logical but it is the first time I've seen it. May all other record labels do the same.
The CD is dedicated to the memory of Walter Hyatt and Townes van Zandt.
Edited by Kerry Dexter