Dave Richardson is a singer-songwriter of the (mostly) folk variety who has released some interesting, understated music in recent years; his Carry Me Along of a few years ago was a Fervor Coulee favourite.
As do most songwriters, Richardson writes and sings about connection. Whether the connection between elements of our natural world, connections between individuals and communities, or connection between humans and their world, almost all songs come back to connection. Except Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”: that is aural existentialism. Wait, that means it is about connection, too. Damn it.
All folk songs, I am comfortable positing, are about connection, and in early 2021 many are missing that element of society. Not all of us, though—some of us are truly hoping that when things ‘get back to normal’ we can continue to live at a distance within society. Call it social anxiety, which it may be, or simply having lived long enough to know that most folks we encounter are not people we want to spend much time with—and really, while we are being entirely honest, they aren’t too excited about hanging out with ol’ DT either—for some this state of distancing is quite desirous.
I am going to be careful not to impart my wee tangle of darkness onto Dave Richardson because his situation may not be remotely similar to mine. But, in his email to me he wrote: “I have been thinking about home, solitude, connection, and relationships. My need for space and to retreat, and my social anxiety can interfere with my desire to connect with others, share experiences, and be together. My songwriting has been reflecting these themes…” and I think to myself, “He used the Oxford comma: I love this man!”
But I also thought, “The pandemic has done this to all of us. But unlike me, Dave wants to connect with others and be with them.,” (“My Friends” and “Honey Leaf,” as example.) Fair…and then I continue to read his note: “…and by late 2019 I had a collection of the most personal songs I’ve ever written.” Wait. Having listened to the album a couple times before examining his email in detail, this statement floored me. These songs are NOT a product of the pandemic and its ensuing required isolation (well, except in Florida and on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue apparently) but an (non-causal) antecedent of it: these songs reflect where Richardson was going well before most of us had heard of Wuhan, combabilities, social distancing, and covidiots.
I was surprised that the album wasn’t written during the pandemic because it is deeply personal, and several songs—including the album’s three-song core “Garden House,” “Flashlight,” and “Love For Love”—do examine moods and experiences that lend themselves to our current situation. But unlike some of us, in these songs and elsewhere Richardson turns a light of brightness to these experiences. Palms to Pines has slowly woven itself into the web of my own COVID-19, socially anxious, mental neurosis.
The album’s opening track, “Keep Trying” gives us a peek into Richardson’s personal outlook, and he identifies the challenges of being involved in a relationship with him: “I’m stuck in my own head, 24-7.” He is apologetic for his behaviour, but challenged to change:
“Sometimes I’d rather be at home with my earbuds and closed off from everything,
and sometimes you’ll find me sitting alone, close to the action watching it happen—
but I’m always glad I came and I’m going to keep trying.”
And the unspoken hope is implied: You, too. Please. Hang in there and allow me to work on my own issues to maintain the connection. With you. With them.
“Keep Trying” is a terrific song lyrically, and its melody—built around a series of climbing notes—and the choral ‘woo-who’s’ pull all the angst, desire, and questioning into a wee piece of power pop magic.
Like Ron Sexsmith and Mark Erelli, Richardson writes and performs within the folk world while infusing his songs with these massive chords and changes that just scream classic pop ‘n’ roll. Like Sexsmith, Richardson can take a song of considerable loneliness (“Bright Phoebus”—“for the very first time she smiled on me,”) and make us remember only its exaltation of positivity.
I get the sense that Richardson has listened to a bit of Nick Lowe; how else to explain the acerbic cheek of “Apology to Mouse (Recently Deceased)?”
“If I could talk and you could listen,
I would have tried imploring reason,
but there is just no getting through.
I took no joy in ending you, and wish I didn’t have to—Did I have to? Did I have to?
You fell for my trap; you went in for a snack,
and there you broke your neck…
I hope that it was quick.”
The title track is quite spectacular, while other songs also bring to mind the approaches of Erelli, Sexsmith, and even Del Amitri (where’d that come from?!)—“Love For Love,” “My Thoughts,” and “One Bird Other Bird.” It may well be the utilization of the band that brings these artists to mind, and the contributions of drummer Ariel Bernstein, bassist Grace Ward (who also sings), and cellist Valerie Thompson (vocals, too) are significant to the listening experience, as are additional vocalists Emily Moran, Emily Mure, and Lauren Balthrop.
There is a lot to appreciate when it comes to Dave Richardson—the lyrics, the ‘just right’ arrangements, the palatable sense of connection displayed by the musicians and singers—but what I most appreciate within this new collection is the way he plays with his voice. I can’t describe it adequately, but he goes on these ascending (and descending) tangs that I just love, adding additional personality and individualism to his performance.
RIchardson sings, “I really love you all and I’m going to keep trying.” Really, what more should any of us aspire toward? Even we curmudgeons happiest with our own company. Good album, Palms to Pines. Seek it out.