folk

Peter Bradley Adams

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No matter the form, when it comes to art, there are a number of different tacks to take. Some artists continually push their work across new horizons. Neil Young, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Joni Mitchell come to mind, in that regard. Others —Claude Monet, Jason Isbell, and Bonnie Raitt, among them —stand a bit more still in order to continually refine the capturing of their vision. Singer/songwriter Peter Bradley Adams falls into the latter category of perfectionists chasing their own perfection. With A Face Like Mine, he may well have caught it.

There's a confidence, a completeness in the song cycle that listeners have gleaned throughout Adams' illustrious career, but A Face Like Mine, his sixth solo effort, brings it all into sharp focus. As Adams sees it, “On the long plod of finding my voice as a singer and a writer, the singing has slowly developed from the sound of a scared guy to someone who believes what he's saying and the writing, I hope, has become less rigid —both in the lyrics and the phrasing.”

Less rigid, indeed. Adams' brand of Americana nestles his often delicate, always heartfelt voice in the warm embrace of gentle guitar, tasteful dobro, subtle banjo, supportive bass, and unhurried percussion. The result is a sonic scape that, in turn, wraps itself around the listener like a soft blanket on a cold day. With A Face Like Mine, Adams further refines the simple musical sophistication that has become his trademark.

Throughout the self-produced set, Adams tells tales of love and loss, homes and hearts. The territory he mines is a deliberate mix of fact and fantasy. “I feel like I'm, firstly, a storyteller, but it's inevitable that my own stuff gets in there deep. And it's funny how, sometimes, I don't realize it until the song is done,” he offers. “At the same time, there are times where I take very directly from an experience or a relationship, but I try to be very careful when that happens. I don't want to ever sound like a journal entry.”

Regardless of the details, there's always a philosophical bent that is often more under than on the surface, firmly grounding Adams' songs even as they stretch outward. By his own admission, Adams is a seeker who spends considerable time wrestling with matters of faith, though he's the first to admit he doesn't have any real answers. “I honestly don't know what the hell I'm doing... nor do I have the language for any of this stuff,” he says with a laugh. “But there is a constant tug on me in that direction and, the older I get, the more present it becomes. Music can often be the most direct way to step into that river.”

That seeker's heart is the tie that so often binds these songs together. Whether the search for place and purpose is of a spiritual or geographical nature, few writers capture the journey as thoughtfully as Adams. An Alabama native, Adams says he feels most comfortable in motion and doesn't have a strong sense of being Southern, even though his music is rooted in that world in so many ways. The first verse of the album's mesmerizing lead track, “Good Man,” exemplifies his plight: “This old house is falling down. Every step I take makes a hollow sound. Should I walk away? Should I push on through? What in the world can a good man do?”

Even as Adams goes on to sing of “laughing eyes with a touch of grey” and walking “a mile across the kitchen floor” in order to set various scenes, he leaves room for the listener to crawl inside his stories and make them their own. Striking that balance is the songwriter's eternal struggle, but one Adams seems to have mastered after years of toiling on his own and collaborating with co-writers like Kim Richey, Caitlin Canty, and Todd Lombardo.

“I don't think I'm very good at co-writing because my process seems so weird and long and tedious to me,” Adams confides. “It's hard to allow someone into that space, but there a few folks where our sensibilities are aligned and we're not just trying to bang out a song in a day. I want to feel as close to the songs I co-write as the ones I write alone. Writers like Kim Richey have such an economy and depth to the ideas that come out of their mouths and hands —there's wisdom there. I want to be more like that.”

In addition to this release, Adams is currently putting his classical composition studies to work on a piece for violin and piano —an aspect of his craft and education that got set aside somewhere along the way to now. “I've wondered a lot why I spent all that time studying music in school and how my composer that fits in with or hinders my songwriting,” he says. “Some of it was definitely useless to me, then and now. But some of it has left its mark on how I listen, and how I think of arranging songs, and how I communicate with players who are playing on them. Also, writing in such an extremely simple and constrained musical language makes all your choices much more delicate, so I spend a lot of time crafting even the simplest melody.”

A Face Like Mine's songs were composed all over the world, from Alabama to India, and they dig into topics are disparate as the desperation of addiction (“Lorraine”), the grappling of self-image (“Who Else Could I Be”), the vitriol of politics (“We Are”), and the genetics of suffering (“A Face Like Mine”). “We Are” and “Who Else Could I Be” were originally written for a dance piece that Gina Patterson choreographed for the San Angelo Civic Ballet. Even so, Adams made sure the songs could stand alone in their own world no matter what else was swirling around them —confidence and completeness in action.

As a work of musical art, A Face Like Mine fulfills the promise of Peter Bradley Adams. And rarely has an artist's standing still sounded so divine.

THE SILENT COMEDY

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For a few years, Joshua Zimmerman couldn’t bring himself to listen to his band’s most recent album. Enemies Multiply – the Silent Comedy LP he and Jeremiah, his brother and longtime bandmate, had written and recorded several years ago – felt too personal, too raw to engage with. Born of a rough patch in the Zimmerman brothers’ personal and professional lives, listening to it felt like rubbing salt in healed wounds. Despite the brothers collectively viewing the album as some of their best work in the decade-plus they’d been a band, the project was shelved.

Then the 2016 election happened.

 “And suddenly, at that moment,” while living in New York City and feeling bewildered and frustrated at the country’s new reality, “I realized the feeling of this moment was what we wrote this music for,” Joshua recalls. A certain pall and desperation had settled over the country in the days and week after the election and, in Joshua’s estimation, the album now had widespread cultural resonance. “At this particular moment in U.S. history I felt like a lot more people could take comfort in the songs than ever before,” Joshua notes of the 11-track LP that at long last is set for release on October 19th. Jeremiah concurred: “For the first time ever I just want people to hear it and have it.”

Recorded in Austin, Texas, Enemies Multiply is sonically a big-boned, bruising affair. The brothers channeled an admittedly confusing time of conflict in their lives — as well as the previous perilous years leading up to it, characterized by what Josh describes as “being jerked around by the music industry” — into their most impassioned, hard-hitting, and thoroughly engaging album of their career. Standing at the center is “Sharks Smell Blood,” all bluesy strut, spooky choirboy harmonies and sing-along hook. Likewise, “Avalanche” is framed around a searing guitar line and squelching church organ. Like the album itself, and the band’s own views on it, “that song evolved over time. I’ve loved it in every incarnation it went through, but when I listen to how it ended up I really feel that’s the pinnacle of all of that work,” Joshua explains. Even “No Saints Forgiven,” which begins as a back porch delta-blues confessional, quickly explodes into a Van Halen-esque sing-along at the chorus.

But it’s the messages in the songs  – namely combating malevolence by banding together with likeminded people – that compelled the Silent Comedy to finally release the album. As children, after traveling the globe with their missionary parents only to return to the United States, meander some more, then settle down in San Diego in a house with literally nothing but an upright piano, the two brothers looked to musical collaboration in their mid-teens as a cathartic outlet. “Jeremiah started writing songs, “Josh recalls. “That was kind of his way of processing everything that we’d been through. That’s really when we started writing together.” It was their traveling that also colored their worldview which, when compared to some of their peers, was decidedly darker. “It skewed our perception to see how much suffering there is in the world and how fortunate we are in the United States by comparison,” Joshua explains. “We have always had a little bit more somber view of things.” Enemies Multiply, he then adds, “is a distillation of that worldview.” Jeremiah admits the album “has a lot of stuff in there about people backstabbing each other” which caused some record labels to initially balk at releasing it. And even now, as he wishes that subject matter weren’t so applicable, “I think people are more sympathetic to that idea,” Jeremiah offers. The album, he adds, “is a journey in context.”

Though, as Joshua explains, it’s the album’s most hopeful track, the closing “Peace of Mind,” that he says now connects with him on an intensely personal level. One of the most collaborative songs he and Jeremiah ever wrote, the harmonica-drenched folk lament, on one hand, “is really about being in a desperate place and a hopeless place, but also about taking comfort in banding together.” It especially spoke to him in the past two years, particularly as the world seemed to slip further into chaos. “It still is a really emotional song to listen to and to sing,” he adds.

“All of what we have been through as a band is wrapped up in this new project,” Joshua notes of the Silent Comedy’s realization that conflicts and challenges often reveal themselves as the best source material for artistic expression. The years spent writing the material that became Enemies Multiply, according to Jeremiah, “were exhausting and it was really taking a toll on us. We were in a legitimate struggle. But all the songs started to take on a new meaning. This entire process was saturated with so much frustration and conflict. So to see something like Enemies Multiply rise out of that is awesome.”

 While not always visible in plain sight, rock music has always formed the foundation of the Silent Comedy. The brothers, who were fanboys for bands like Rage Against The Machine and At The Drive-In during their teenage years, first delved into band life via joint membership in a punk and post-hardcore act. But after forming the Silent Comedy in the mid-2000’s, their early albums, including 2010’s Common Faults,, began to incorporate the folk, Americana and the blues they picked up from listening to a healthy dose of Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel. Still, all throughout, their live show was centered on its rollicking, over-the-top, energy. To that end, the Zimmerman brothers felt their studio efforts needed to better match up with their live persona.

“In a way it was only a matter of time before we fully embraced our rock n’ roll roots,” Josh says.  Adds Jeremiah: “The farther we kept going, we realized the stuff that was more interesting to us was the more energetic and rock-focused material. Our energy has been our biggest asset. We wanted to put that on the record.”

If the journey has felt long and at times painful, the Zimmerman brothers feel that with Enemies Multiply now set for release the ends truly do justify the means. “There’s a certain freedom to whatever happens now,” Jeremiah says. “After a while in life you start to look at the bigger picture.”

 

 

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