JOHN VANDERSLICE – Romanian Names (2009)

John Vanderslice - Romanian Names John Vanderslice is not your typical troubadour; his music is expansive and cerebral, and his lyrics are tightly wound narratives that dodge abstraction and convention in equal measure. So while tradition may not play a central part of his style, don’t make the mistake of thinking that he can’t whittle things down to the basics of man + guitar and be every bit as affecting as he is when he’s forging electronic, atypical melodies; to back up this claim, I cite Moon Colony Bloodbath, an album you probably haven’t heard (but I have, ’cause I purchased on the recent Gone Primitive tour), as it’s a collaborative, vinyl/tour-only EP between John Vanderslice and Mr. John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. That album features minimal electro-trickery from Mr. Vanderslice, and considering the album’s about secret organ-harvesting colonies on the moon, copious amounts of electo-trickery would not be out of place.

One can occasionally hear glimpses of the aforementioned EP’s fragility (sans the sci-fi menace) on Romanian Names, John Vanderslice’s seventh album, and the first one in a while that doesn’t deal thematically with 9/11 or the conflict in Iraq (topics which Vanderslice delved masterfully into on Pixel Revolt, and less masterfully into on Emerald City). It’s wonderful to hear John Vanderslice weave such improbable beauty out of songs like Too Much Time or Oblivion (songs that, in the hands of a lesser musician, would be unbearable), and to hear both those songs flanked by such comparatively simple songs like Sunken River Boat and C & O Canal is quite illustrative of the depths of John Vanderslice’s talent – as an artist, a lyricist, a producer. Trifecta? You betcha.

As John Vanderslice exists a bit off the singer/songwriter beaten path, trying to recommend him is a bit of a dicey proposition. There are those who (like me) will find his musical approach to be as lovely as it is endearing, and there are others who will find it too sterile to enjoy. But I’d bet money that the first group will outnumber the second any day of the week.

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