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Glory Avenue

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Album Review

One can hear the traces and ghost traces of many songwriters in Patrick Herek's songs. However, he didn't have to fight for his identity among them; he merely listened to their voices, nodded, and wrote his own songs. To say that this Brighton, MI, native's recording debut is quirky would be an understatement. After all, few tunesmiths compose so eloquently or ironically about medical school. Backed by Ann Arbor's Original Brothers and Sister of Love, Herek indulges a fascination for the odd, the overlooked, and the absurd, with a humorist's eye and the witty voice of a poet who writes limericks. But writing song lyrics are not Herek's strongest suit, as evidenced by the opener, "Demonic Piano." One can hear traces of everyone from Randy Newman, Billy Joel, and Harry Nilsson in his opening four. In a song that details the fascination and obsession of children who have a primal need to beat on the family piano, the poet Joel of "Piano Man" meets a Midwestern lyricist's heart and the tenderness of Schmilsson and turns in a tender meditation on musical and youthful obsession. Accompanied only by his piano on "Could I Ever Let You Down," Herek offers a scathing payback to someone who's made his life a living hell. It's full of sarcasm, twisted wit, and awesome extended minor-chord voicings that have an utterance of their own. The straight-ahead singer/songwriter rock of "Round and Round" is a welcome respite from the bile even though it's a wry, self-curated victim's view of modern (sub)urban life. Again, with its prancing, regal piano and the steadiness of Scott McClintock's bass, the track would be a rant; instead it's a musical wander through the postmodern jungle through the eyes of a frightened, angry misanthropic protagonist. While it's true that some of Herek's work comes off as being a bit precious, his plaintive signing voice and truly gorgeous musicianship offering lushly sympathetic treatments of his subjects carries his occasionally awkward words. Perhaps the most direct and moving track on the record is "Untouchable," with its shimmering church organ minimalism and acoustic guitar frame courtesy of Timothy Monger. Emily Stoops' cello anchors this love song firmly in the center of a cracked but open heart, full of light that has been informed by personal and cultural darkness. There are so few sad love songs being written today with this kind of honesty and unapologetically romantic ambition that it wears its intentions all over itself in Technicolor. The piano strolls out the verses with grace, and a faltering hope that the listener will feel the protagonist's impure intent: to win back that which is lost, to keep present that which has not already passed. As debut albums go, this one is quite fine; it's full of small mysteries and cleverness that bears repeated listening.

Glory Avenue, Patrick Herek
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