Troubadour time as North Carolina resident Dave Desmelik pours out his emotions on this spare but elegantly played disc. Desmelik plays most of the instruments himself, guitars, piano, banjo, pump organ, snare drum and “heartbeat.” Some very sweet lap steel guitar by Josh Gibbs embroiders several of the songs while Andy Gibbon supplies bass but in the main it’s a one-man show. At times its pared to the bone as on the title song which features just voice, piano and that heartbeat with some ambient noise towards the end. The song itself, Deep Down The Definition is a superb existentialist lament that benefits from Desmelik’s wearied vocal. Throughout the album he portrays an outsider’s viewpoint of life and the trials and tribulations it throws up with little in the way of empathy. As he sings on the excellent Burn It All Away “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, there are no more roadmaps, you finish and then begin.” Sung over a simple strummed guitar with melancholic lap steel keening in the background this is a great song that begs to be listened to over and over again, mesmerising and at times reminiscent of Richmond Fontaine’s better moments.
Desmelik reinforces the idea of the individual over the collective on Howard Roark where he pays tribute to the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. However the following song Success highlights the emptiness of such successes as achieved by the likes of Roark although the melange of styles employed within the song indicates a degree of internal confusion. This is compounded by the stark love song Picture in a Frame where he sings of a lost, perhaps dead companion who saw him “at my best and in my darkest place, you were the only one I’d allow into this space.”
In case this gives the impression that the album is a miserablilst collection of dour misanthropic gripes one has to state that several of the songs are upbeat, at least in their delivery. Pulling For You is a frisky love letter, Well and Smooth has a glorious vamp to it despite the pessimism in the lyrics while Standing Still has some fine rumbling electric guitar. In addition Desmelik arranges the spare instrumentation with a velvet touch which at times is sublime. The bare boned He Gave All He Had is devastating in its dark beauty while Cemetery is a portrait of a man bereft of emotion but is delivered in a fascinating mix of low key country and John Fahey type guitar wizardry.
Almost a song cycle of life and death and the little that matters in between this is a great album that recalls the likes of Richard Thompson and Richmond Fontaine in its downbeat and occasionally bitter sense.