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CD Review – The Bearer of Bad News

Andy Shauf’s The Bearer of Bad News is, simply put, a songwriting triumph.

A recent Prairie Dog cover story on the Estevan-born singer-songwriter has dubbed him the “Paul Simon of the prairies.” An equally apt – and alliterative – title, I think, would be the “Elliott Smith of SSK.” To press the Smith comparison, this is Shauf’s XO – the record where the songwriter’s sonic palette expands (guitar, bass, piano, clarinet) while still preserving his natural knack for melody.

Two traditional songwriting modes abound on Bearer, each executed deftly. Songs like “Drink My Rivers”, “I’m Not Falling Asleep”, “Covered In Dust”, and “Lick Your Wounds” comprise the record’s more lyrical mode, with Shauf’s meditating, in effective minimalist lines, on ambition, faith, mortality, and love.

In the other mode, album opener “Hometown Hero,” the stark “Wendell Walker,” and the tremendous one-two closer punch of “Jerry Was A Clerk” and “My Dear Helen” are Andy’s narratively driven pieces. These read like short stories in locales familiar to us, with characters and sensations we know – everyday heroes, lovers, schemers, plots, accidents, anxieties, and regrets. We’ve seen the hometown hero’s bomber jacket, we’ve felt the winter cold in “Wendell Walker,” we know the frail widower of “My Dear Helen.”

Props are also due to producer/engineer Jonathan Anderson, who makes the sonic details on a song like “Wendell Walker” come alive and heighten its already taut tension. Or, what about the ambient sound bridge that pulls us from the harmony-filled outro build of “You’re Out Wasting” into “The Man On Stage”? Or, the warped clarinet swells in the intro to “I’m Not Falling Asleep”?

Too much good stuff here. Buy it. Be proud of it.

Joel Blechinger
Contributor

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