A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Whether you call an artist a folk singer or a singer-songwriter, one thing remains central: the lyrics are to be taken seriously. The artist may also try to create memorable melodies that the listener can hum along to, but the lyrics remain paramount. At their best, these lyrics can take the form of social criticism, protest, or personal revelation; at their worst, they can become self-absorbed and self-important. The daunting challenge for the folk singer is to write meaningful songs, create an original voice, and to withstand comparison to Dylan, Prine, and a host of other folk legends. |
Eric Westbury's first CD release Walking Tracks seems prepared for that challenge. Unlike many singer-songwriters, Westbury doesn't reveal anything about his love life. There are no, "I've been living without love for too long" songs, or anything overly introspective. The refreshing thing about Walking Tracks is that the artist's own feelings seem properly tempered by social observation and sober writing. Sure, the material is depressing, but it doesn't feel like a put on. The lyrics also succeed at never hitting the listener over the head.
The opening track Tightly Wound, is one of the strongest on the album. It compiles a long list of opposites--"I've been both stupid and profound"--followed by the refrain, "Tightly wound." This ongoing list of opposites builds into more than the sum of its parts as it trips along to a happy banjo. The title track is another standout, painting a depressing portrait of an old man with nothing to show for his long life. The chorus leaves the listener with the cheerless refrain of, "... when I'm old and gray, and I pause to look back, I hope I don't leave walking tracks like that."
Other standouts include, Turbine, Next Showing of the Big Picture, and Churchill's Black Dog; songs that are at turns poetic, prophetic, and significant. Westbury clearly has a gift for capturing glimpses of the human condition with a few well-chosen words. The only criticism is that the five tracks mentioned above are the first five tracks of the album; they are so good, the remaining cuts lose something in comparison.
There's no reason to go into which of the great folkies Westbury is most like. For this reviewer, it's a relief to know that singers like him-full of crafty lyrics and something to say-didn't all die out after the Great Folk Scare. The bottom line for Walking Tracks is this: people who love good folk music, especially music with a message, should check out Eric Westbury. The songs of Walking Tracks were apparently garnered from some 80 originals, so with any luck, much more will be heard from him in the near future. This CD captures yet another Canadian folkie getting his singing career off to a great start.