‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ – Rod Picott

5 stars (out of 5)

0

Every so often, an album comes along that isn’t just a great collection of songs played beautifully; an album that pushes a few personal buttons and maybe touches a few raw nerves as well. Rod Picott’s ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ is one of those albums that creates a very personal connection. Maybe it’s an East Coast thing between Maine in the USA and Fife in Scotland; you don’t need to look too hard to see the parallels and ‘Washington County’ paints a picture of an area where genteel resorts sit side by side with poverty-stricken former industrial towns and villages. They’re three thousand miles apart, but it’s the same experience.

Just taking a step to one side for a moment, as music has moved into the digital realm, so have some of the ways of getting it out there and letting people know about it. It’s not so long since review copies arrived as CDs (or vinyl if you want go back a bit further) with an A4 press release, through the letterbox. Now they arrive in your inbox and an artist or PR team can include much more material with no extra distribution costs. Which means that artwork and credits, additional photos and lyric sheets are fairly common now and there’s a relatively recent addition of the artist’s ‘track-by-track’ notes. Reviewers should rely more on their ears and instincts than press releases, but you can sometimes pick up a useful insight into the artist’s vision. In the case of Rod Picott, there’s always something worth reading when he puts fingers to keyboard.

The story behind ‘Valentine’s Day’ on this album is a perfect example. It’s a very honest song, painfully so, that’s stripped back to the raw basics of acoustic guitar and cracked vocal. Rod’s notes tell us that the original recording was a full band version that sounded “wonderful – and completely wrong”, like “an Eagles track with a guy that can’t really sing”; the arrangement was too perfect and in Rod’s words again, “for me, perfect is almost always wrong”. Producer Neilson Hubbard liked the stripped-back version and three takes later it was in the can.

There are a couple of strands that run through the album, Rod’s acceptance of a spell of single life that surfaces in the opening song ‘Lover’, ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ where the loneliness exists for creatives even inside a relationship, and the autobiographical songs ‘Lost in the South’ and ‘Mark of Your Father’ which both reference his background and his father with ‘Lost in the South’ using his father as a jumping-off point for Rod’s early experiences in the South, while ‘Mark of Your Father’ explores the complicated nature of father-son relationships using Marvin Gaye as an example of how bad things can really get.

And then there are a few songs taking their inspiration from other areas. The dark and menacing ‘Revenuer’, with its dirty guitars and screaming slide solo is inspired by a Taylor Brown novel and explores that thin line between right and wrong when your choices are limited and times are hard. ‘Frankie Lee’ is an outlaw song where the main character always accepts his ultimate fate as the electric chair and, like a lot of Rod’s more stark songs, wouldn’t sound out of place on The Boss’s ‘Nebraska’ (and I know I’ve made that link before).

Rod’s a fan of boxing and ‘Sonny Liston’ is a song that pulls at some of the threads running through a lot of Rod’s work. Sonny Liston was a complex character, torn between the world he came from and the dubious world of professional boxing and gangland connections that he joined without ever gaining the respect of either. The man who took his world title, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali is better remembered now, but the Sonny Liston story is full of loose ends, links to organised crime, drugs, sudden death and astonishing sporting prowess. Rod weaves all of these strands into a powerful and economic narrative with a simple alliterative and assonant chorus: “Two big fists pumping like pistons, nobody punched like Sonny Liston”.

Fourteen albums in, Rod Picott is still pushing at the boundaries of his craft, still looking for ways to create songs that mean something, to him and to his audience. Let’s not use the word ”perfect” to describe ‘Paper Heart and Broken Arrows”; let’s go with an outstanding collection of beautifully-crafted songs delivered by outstanding musicians and a singer whose voice cracks with power and emotion. OK with you?

‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ is released in the UK on Friday June 10on Welding Rod Records.

No videos yet for songs on the album, but here’s a link to a live performance of the fabulous ‘Rust Belt Fields’:

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