Artist: Andy Shauf
Album: The Bearer of Bad News
Written by: Chiara DiAngelo
It’s not often that a voice like Andy Shauf’s shows up unexpectedly in your inbox. I’ve somehow remained in the dark to the magnificence that is this Prairie boy, but I immediately allowed him to take me by the hand and eagerly followed him into the melancholy abyss he has created on his latest effort The Bearer of Bad News.
Shauf does it all on this release. With poetic lyricism, he plays the role of storyteller, each song a fictional story that plays out like personal memoirs set to music. Combining themes of death, dying, and loneliness, there is a sombre darkness to the tales Shauf weaves, though he executes them gracefully and beautifully. Possessing such a unique lilt to his voice and an old soul quality to his delivery, you feel as if you’ve been transported to another era. From the first opening bars of “Hometown Hero,” you are presented with an array of bewitching instrumentals including guitar, piano, strings, drums and even clarinet. The texture provided by the full-bodied trill of the clarinet is perhaps best displayed on “Drink My Rivers” and “I’m Not Falling Asleep.”
An obvious standout track on the record is the eight-minute marathon of a song “Wendell Walker.” On the surface it passed me by as an average account of the bitter cold of winter. However, digging deeper, past the slight mumble on some of Shauf’s delivery into the depth of the lyrics reveals a treacherous story of a secret affair that ends in death and suicide. Backed by simple instrumentals throughout much of it, as the song nears the 7:15 mark, the strings come in – just briefly – to really set the terrifying scene. This seemingly simple addition builds knuckle-clenching anticipation as you wait with bated breath to learn the final resolution of the narrative.
“The Man On Stage” and “Lick Your Wounds” are rare beams of light on the album. “Light” of course being a relative term, as their more upbeat melodies can’t fully mask the still-despondent lyrics. The album ends with “My Dear Helen.” In this letter or one-sided dialogue to the deceased woman, Shauf’s character is an old man left with only a dog to keep him company. The twist in the story emerges when he becomes an accidental killer and is forced to spend the rest of his days pondering his ultimate fate. Wherever he is drawing inspiration from – real or imagined – this recurring sense of morbidness reveals an unexpected profoundness beyond Shauf’s young years. Shauf may proclaim that “I am not a poet, I’m a broken heart” on “The Man On Stage,” but everything about this record is pure and utter poetry.
Shauf is currently finishing up a tour of Western Canada. Until he makes his way to Ontario, I’ll be catching up on the rest of his past records as well.