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Bill Janovitz | Up Here (SpinArt)
"She was cute in a drippy sort of way" has to be one of the great album opening lines. You can always rely on Bill to pen fine words though, he's done it for years with Buffalo Tom, so why shouldn't it continue for his solo work? Some of the tracks here were written in the BT days, but deemed wrong for the full band treatment, such as Atlantic where that line comes from, others were written for weddings, births or on the way to the studio. It's an odd mix, but it works. Each track is given a brief description by Bill, so you'll find out just where he bought his $10 guitar used on the title track. It's that personal touch that helps make the album, the songs are heartfelt and sometimes it can feel awkward listening to such a stripped down sound without the impression that you're intruding, but knowing Half A Heart was written while driving to the recording session makes you feel less of a voyeur. You'll also find out that he achieved the dark and lonely sound of Your Stranger's Face by sitting in a dark and lonely basement studio. It's a noteworthy song because it contains the line "long winter's curse, White Castle hamburgers", which goes to show how bleak it was down there. In case you get the impression it's all 'sad man on his own' music, there is the glorious harmonising of Chris Toppin on several songs, the sweetest being Goodnight, Wherever You Are where her voice complements Bill's easily, despite his apologies in the notes for the clumsy words. Some die-hards might quibble that there's no big rockers to air-guitar to, but it's not meant to be that kind of album, the grainy black and white cover shot should tell you that, with Bill alone at a diner's table, beneath a crooked photo of a truck. It's a man telling his touching, familiar stories to passing strangers with lines such as "the people who say goodbye to you are only ones who care" and "slogging through the streets, I curse my tired, wet feet". Bill has a knack of seizing the ordinary around him and setting it to music, it's a gift that should see him acclaimed, but he still languishes in the backwaters of musical fame. This album, probably, won't change that, after all, Buffalo Tom are still unknowns. Then again, what if he did find fame, would he still sing about your life? Maybe it's best to just treasure him and whisper his name to those dear to you, for, as he sings "I've learned my thing from hollow youth, to hold on to the good things that I've got". The words "you'll have this song for the rest of your life" may have been written for his child, but there's at least one on this album that is for you and you alone, believe me.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002