I knew Jeff Talmadge was someone to watch when I heard Crazy Little Town from his Blissville album a few years ago. At first listen, it was a seemingly innocuous folk tune about two ships passing in the night and an opportunity missed, but repeated hearings unveiled a song not so easily dismissed. Each listen peeled back another layer, it seemed, and it slowly bored its way into my consciousness until I began to get what Talmadge was writing/saying/singing. But only from my viewpoint. A musician friend of mine says that the best songwriters write for the reader/listener/consumer and leave the true meaning up to them. If that is the case, Jeff Talmadge is one of the best songwriters/singers/musicians out there.
If Crazy Little Town was the only example, that would hold true to a degree, but Talmadge has a boatload of tunes which reach as deep or almost as deep. Kind of Everything is peppered with them as are his earlier albums, and there are more than a few. The title track, in fact, could bookend Crazy Little Town on a compilation and first time listeners wouldn't blink an eye. Those familiar with his music would notice and smile.
I would say that it is hard not to smile when hearing Jeff Talmadge, but there are moments I am taken away to a place where smiles are replaced with the sober face of reflection. Certain of his songs are musical forks in the road. Like he does so obviously on Crazy Little Town and Kind of Everything, I find myself looking at the past and wondering about the many forks in the road. I find myself immersed in what life would have been had I taken a left turn instead of a right at just one point—at what it would have been like if I had taken several turns, in fact. What would have happened, say, if I had told various girls I wanted something more instead of remaining an admirer from a distance. If I had accepted job promotions which would have forced me to relocate. If I had not been drafted. If I had found something that I loved more than music. Talmadge does that to me. He makes me daydream. He makes long for something that didn't happen to have happened or something that happened to not have. Few songwriters have made me feel that. Very, very few. To myself, that is his gift. Some songwriters make their music personal. Talmadge makes YOU make it personal. Well, not "makes", but he does give you the opportunity.
Kind of Everything is not the only song of worth on this album. He borrows a tune from David Olney, If It Wasn't For the Wind, which is a bit of an anomaly but an anomaly you will be glad to hear, a light country rocking shuffle of a song; he steps into Tim O'Brien territory on Molly, a lonesome backwoodsy lament helped along by O'Brien's unmistakable vocal backing; he sings of intense loneliness and loss on It Hasn't Happened Yet; and very few could personify "alone" as well as he does on It'll Sure Be Cold Tonight. Of course, these are just my highlights. All thirteen songs are pure Jeff Talmadge, the thirteenth being a "bonus track" in the form of In the Quiet of Christmas, a song which paints that holiday with a whole lot of memories and emotions.
I was through this album three times before I picked up the insert and saw that the album was produced by Thomm Jutz. I first heard of Jutz through his work on Steve Young's excellent Songlines Revisited album on which Jutz played and produced. Since, he has worked with Steve's son Jubal and Jubal's mother and Steve's ex-wife Terrye Newkirk, among others. I know Jutz, or at least I know his work. No wonder he talked Talmadge into recording If It Wasn't For the Wind. That's right. Jutz has also worked with Olney.
I would say something about Talmadge's voice, but I cannot separate his voice from the songs. Imperfect though it may be, it is part of the fabric which makes each song come alive. No one else I've heard sings quite like Talmadge nor do they bring to the song what Talmadge does. The man is truly unique, whether it be voice or songwriting. He was a lawyer once, you know. He evidently walked away from the law to do what his heart demanded. Money or happiness? It is not an easy decision unless you subscribe to lives as presented through Hollywood. In my opinion, it is lucky for us that he doesn't. Jeff Talmadge was born to be a musician, whether he knew it or not. In fact, he is a musician. Listen and learn.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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