Pope John XXIII is remembered as saying, “I never met a pessimist who managed to do something good,” a phrase that comes to mind after hearing two new Americana CDs with a sympathetic ear that was charmed, then disappointed.
(Full disclosure: I’m a longtime fan of the blues but prefer optimistic musicians to those wallowing in woe – I like “Wang Dang Doodle” much more than “Got A Mind to Give Up Living.”)
First, decades after his debut record, Adam Carroll recorded “I Walked in Them Shoes” (his ninth release) in a single December day in Dripping Springs, Texas. This month, the native Texan is scheduled to perform June 27 at the Songbird Cafe in St. Louis (314-482-8994) and June 28 at Sandwich Life House Concerts in Champaign (217-722-3432).
Although Carroll, 44, references John Sebastian, Richie Havens and Willie Nelson here, his temperament and tone are more like reliable folkies Ramblin’ Jack Elliott or Utah Phillips.
Throughout the 10 tracks, there’s hope amid adversity, heartache without heartbreak, mixing pleasant memories of a romance and dim thoughts of a jarring end to love.
“Cordelia,” an ode to his wife, has a mood of some loneliness and even fear, and along with the Cajun-flavored “Crescent City Angels” the material concedes he’s been beset by troubles. However, he avoids self-pity with a matter-of-fact acknowledgment without showing some sleepy-eyed lack of concern.
“My Only Good Shirt” and “Night at The Show” also stress Carroll isn’t melancholy, which often implies sadness or even defeat. Instead, he opts for a little humor and a more neutral observation, if not acceptance of the Way Things Can Get.
In each number, there are lines, words or images that are soothing, from rainbows to hummingbirds, and especially in the title cut and “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger,” this storyteller’s song bag shows his consistent and eloquent lyrical gifts as well as instrumental guitar skills.
In “Iris,” one of the most touching tales, he notes how homelessness too often means forgotten lives, lives that shared common experiences until “life just got too hard to hold onto.”
At once private yet somehow all-encompassing, his natural yarns are delivered ably in an acoustic audio and a twang that presents common ground rather than impossible obstacles, with conversational singing that celebrates survival in its absence of despair or disdain.
Next, there’s less enthusiasm for Chad Richard’s pleasing voice and promising abilities exhibited in the 12-track “Worthy Cause.”
More country than folk, and with a band sound benefiting from talented side musicians more than a singer-songwriter style, Richard has vocals that are somewhat reminiscent of Blood, Sweat & Tears front man David Clayton Thomas or even a brawnier Kenny Rogers, but better comparisons might be country bluesman Tony Joe White or country-music stalwart Dave Dudley.
This, his second release – a follow-up to 2015’s “Veteran’s Grocery” – is painfully morose, from “Slow Rollin’ State Line” to “The Game.” Repetition can be comforting or dull, but here it’s merely unchallenging. The tempos and styles do vary a bit, from shuffles to ballads, yet they’re overall rather predictable, especially in its gloomy outlook. The autobiographical anguish gets almost overwhelming, a funereal rendering of unhappy happenstance everyone endures to some extent.
Maybe Richard’s next outing will let his considerable skills lend themselves to a more balanced, nuanced perspective, leaving pessimism behind for what’s positive ahead.
He need not be a wide-eyed optimist but could embrace Illinois poet/journalist/historian Carl Sandburg’s attitude: “I am an idealist,” Sandburg said. “I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way!”
That could be good.