When I heard that Michael Meldrum’s debut CD had been co-produced and mixed by Ani DiFranco and that Michael had inspired her to take up guitar as a young girl, I couldn’t wait to hear it. While it is not what I expected (whatever that was), it is an impressive collection of acoustic songs that are anchored in a Greenwich Village folk style yet still bob and float considerably into other genres.
Michael’s songwriting is a highlight of this collection. The melodies and rhythms cradle Michael’s poetic lyrics in just the right way. These songs, with their universal appeal and heart-grabbing hooks, want to be listened to over and over. Michael can collapse your lungs with sadness in one number and then have you beating out a Cajun rhythm on your dashboard in the next. He wrote the music and lyrics to all of these songs except for Rainstorm and the spoken-word Imagine Our Bodies.
Michael injects an engaging and natural sound into these songs. His voice burns with a warmth that is very convincing, and while he doesn’t hit every note perfectly, this actually expands the honesty and humanity of these numbers. He often sounds like Jerry Garcia, and he mostly speaks quite poetically and experientially of a loneliness and yearning for love.
Forget It and Bleeker Street are the finest examples of the melancholic Michael. Forget It is the beautiful opening to this CD. This song would be more memorably named Buffalo Snow which seems to reflect the wintry yearning in the chorus, “Buffalo snow, aw, let me go”. You have to hear the delivery to understand when I say that the “aw” is the crucial word in this line (but the song should not be called “Aw”).
Bleeker Street speaks of a meager existence within a prosperous country. Michael, with Ani’s terrific matching vocals, delivers this tune as though he’s peacefully looking out his window at the life that he may soon have.
Tavern Road Tune and The Great War both tell stories of unfulfilled, or perhaps temporarily fulfilled, companionship. The latter sums it up with “I ’ve been a bastard and I have set you free, Two wrongs make a right this time and this lousy poetry.”
Open Ended Question is among my favorites on this collection. The song zips along with an upbeat, Zydeco flavor, and Ani’s complimentary vocals bring a brightness to the catchy melody. Homemade Baby is another great tune that salutes the joy of parenthood in a romping collection of voices and bouncing rhythms.
Watch Out, Falling Down, and Today The Sun highlight Michael’s midtempo folk and blues songwriting skills. These are all engaging numbers requiring significant toe-tapping or the dashboard thing, depending on what you’re doing at the time.
There are four songs in this collection on which there is a different female lead vocalist, and all of these are lovely complements to the project. Rainstorm is a misty merging of mandolin sprinkled around the thundery blue voice of Alison Pipitone. This one rolls slowly over the horizon and pours into me. I find myself getting caught in it over and over again. Inga Yanoski waltzes through Dancer with her clear soprano, in step with a backdrop of sitar and low whistle. She leads this simple song along very well. River’s Edge, a sad reflection about love, draws a moving performance from Barbara Way (Wydysh). And Ani DiFranco finishes this CD off pleading to her would-be lover, “Please say yes to me tonight, I will lie down by you easy,” through an echoing phone mic. I quietly mutter “yes” before I realize she’s not talking to me.
There are two songs on this project which seem an intentional departure from the general musical theme. Then God Will Dance is a sitar-based instrumental with a choral prayer chanted near the end, and Imagine Our Bodies is a short poem. Both of these are fine pieces in their own right while seeming a bit out of place within the musical framework of this project.
The CD packaging is among the best I’ve ever seen. On the cover and throughout the booklet there are beautiful, bright drawings of the musicians that convey the warmth and camaraderie that can be heard throughout the music. This collection involves many artists from the Buffalo, NY music scene where Michael is somewhat of a local legend.
This project is a strong testament to the strength of a local music community. Michael can stand alone as a singer-songwriter, but he knows that a rising tide lifts every boat (or perhaps that a winter storm lifts every snowshoe), and he has expertly answered the call with Open Ended Question.
Page design by David N. Pyles