Flyin' Cloud Records
A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Listening to Bruce Piephoff's latest CD, Fringeland, I realize that the one thing that still surprises me about this musician is his versatility. Some things, of course, remain the same from one recording to the next (eight before this, if I count right). Piephoff's smooth, rich voice, never harsh but never wispy, that's always present. Likewise the smooth roll of the guitar, part Blind Boy Fuller and part Mississippi John Hurt. He's found a style that works, and within this style, Piephoff crafts songs that are as distinct from one another as they are subtly different from the work of any other singer-songwriter I've heard. And, he always pulls together a talented bunch of friends to back up his songs. |
The first thing that will get your attention are the light-hearted songs like Christmas at the Laundromat. Some of the humor takes a wry look at the life of the musician: Big in Slovenia and One More Night at the Travelodge. Once you finish a grin at a good line, you start listening to the other songs and realize that Piephoff is, first, a writer. He evokes a scene with a spare use of detail, and then the sound carries you right to the street he's looking at. The streets are usually those of his native Greensboro, North Carolina, or the other Southern cities he plays in regularly. And Piephoff puts some real people on those streets. A lot of them are lonely and some are desperate, but they are all believable. Some of these scenes are evoked not in song, but in wonderful prose poems backed by wandering guitar riffs, somewhere between Beat poetry and talking blues.
Phil's Song is a song about Phil Ochs every bit as good as anything he could have ever written himself. Piephoff's respect for Ochs is hardly coincidental, for Piephoff is not afraid of the challenges of a topical song, like Any Father's Son about the murder of Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming. Here Piephoff's style changes again, recounting the story scene by scene in stark lines much like a broadside ballad from a century ago. On the lighter side, Piephoff throws in some blues romps like Long White Cadillac that mix timeworn structures and rhymes with elements new and distinctive.
Many is the good songwriter who succumbs to the temptations of the multitrack studio, but Piephoff's arrangements avoid this pitfall. They center on his acoustic guitar work but benefit from Scott Manring's dobro, Doug Rorrer's and Wayne Seymour's lead guitar, and contributions by a handful of others to vary the arrangements nicely to suit the songs.
Bruce Piephoff is one of the rare performers who realizes that songwriting is a gift, not a right. And his gift is our good fortune.