Jeff Talmadge hasn't really lied to us yet. Wielding a voice like a lower-register Bruce Dern through—how many albums is it now?—he has been true to his music and what is fast becoming a large musical legacy. As with his earlier works, At Least That Much Was True adds more—all of it good, some even better.
God knows how he does it. A farmer's walk across a dry and desolate field on Blissville, his previous album, left my throat parched and my boots dusty and, to be honest, I don't wear boots. The illicit but memorable meeting in a Crazy Little Town on that same disc painted a scene as vivid as any of the best Hollywood has produced, and the sighs come deep with remembrances of love gone awry when I hear The Hard Part's Letting Go. Of course, he could never replicate those. The good news is he didn't even try.
Talmadge's mantra does not rely on replication or duplication or any of the "-tions" which tosses quicksand at the feet of the songwriter. It relies on a vision, on a depth of soul, if you will, which allows the important to outshine the obvious. Never Saw It Go picks up where Blissville lets off, a feeling rather than a picture—a feeling of maybe desperation and maybe loss, all on a voyage which might never happen—a voyage back. Loss dominates Let Her Go as well, but in a more to the point way. A beautiful tune of romance (or, more correctly, the recent memory of…), the chorus floats on the textured and seemingly tortured voice and the light organ in the background. And there is more—much more. There are few songs as heartrending as White Cross. Co-written with Claudia Russell, it crosses lines depending on mood, but no matter—there is great loss.
To my ears, Talmadge saved the best for last. Scrapbook looks back on life in a fairly conventional way, but it is put together so well. More folk than most of his others, it has that universal appeal, musically and lyrically. And then there is Chet Baker Street. How Talmadge made it to lounge jazz, I have no idea, but he made it. Buoyed by light, chorded electric piano and super clean jazz guitar riffs, it whispers three-in-the-morning, cigarettes, whiskey and not juts a woman, but the woman. Magnificent.
What I want to write is that you can't buy production like you get on this disc, but obviously you can. I prefer to think, though, that Bradley Kopp, who produced and played on the album, knows Talmadge and his music so well that the stars aligned. There is not a note wasted or musician left out, and the sound—I'm not an audiophile by any means, but you don't have to be to appreciate it.
Jeff Talmadge is getting better. Lots better. And he was damn good to begin with. I shake my head. In a positive way.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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