Album Review

Larry Barrett - The Big Slowdown

Larry Barrett - The Big Slowdown

The furtive, overdriven guitars and sorrowful harmonica announcing this Seattle singer-songwriter's fourth recording might give the impression of another roots-rocker looking to win the next-Neil-Young sweepstakes. Not so. Barrett can rock, but at heart he's a moody, introspective songwriter -- and a fine one at that. "I don't wonder much about my fate/Besides the show's over now it's too late," he sings on "Just A Word". A fine line, albeit a fib. Barrett circles back again and again to destiny, his and others, the moments they intertwine and speak to each other, while slide guitar, mandolin, and a bit of welcome piano (Barrett plays them all) carry the images along. In "Pull The Plug", he ponders a succession of unbearable fates, each one leading to a memory of Kurt Cobain's miserable choice. Not a pretty picture, but haunting and truthful, nonetheless. Barrett earns his melancholy through an original imagination, a tarnished voice -- sometimes reminiscent of Mickey Newbury, sometimes of Bob Neuwirth -- and a gift for good enigmatic lines: "I can't go back to where I'm from/Walk with strangers, talk a stranger's tongue," or "Blueprints, roadmaps, landmarks from deep water." Only the seven-minute closer, "ICU," sounds forced, as if the writer had been studying Leonard Cohen and drawing the wrong lessons. Much better, and more representative, are the front-porchy "Paint A Picture" and, especially, "Ceramic Bowl", a song for a young girl who throws pottery and plays Sheryl Crow tunes from sheet music. The marvelous lyric is made all the more gorgeous, and somehow hopeful, through Lori Goldston's cello and Emily Marsh's charitable harmonies. "At seventeen it's so fun to sing along," Barrett and Marsh sing; then, "At seventeen a small town just gets smaller." That song, and those surrounding it, will bedevil and seduce the listener.