When Blabber’n’Smoke first heard David Starr on last year’s Love & Sabotage we likened him to Poco, Steve Stills, JD Souther, Andrew Gold and even Fleetwood Mac. The album (which featured contributions from Ritchie Furay, Steve Cropper and John Oates) was a wonderfully melodic slice of country tinged rock music and on the one occasion we saw Starr play the songs live he more than made up for a lack of a band with his enthusiasm and skill honed from many years on the road.
The Head And Heart, Starr’s six song EP follow up is a more reflective affair with little of the California highway breeziness that dominated the earlier album. Instead, Starr offers up some robust thoughts on the inner self and the temptations and conflicts we all face from day to day. The EP finds his friend John Oates firmly in the driving seat as he produces and arranges all the songs breathing new life into one Starr recorded some years ago and also tackling a golden oldie.
Starr proved on Love & Sabotage that he can delve into the more introspective and folkier side of things with his excellent You Will Come To Know and here he continues on that path. The album opens with The Edge Of The World, a peek into the mysteries of women and their beguiling ways that’s cloaked in a sumptuous melody with cello and pedal steel adding a quiet majesty over a pulsating rhythm section, somewhat akin to Jackson Browne’s work on For Everyman. The following title song is similar in delivery with the backing musicians somewhat stellar here with some very fine percussion (from Greg Morrow) in particular. Starr sings here of the ongoing conflict between emotional and rational thoughts, that moment when it’s tempting to just do it and consequences be damned while an inner voice is screaming just the opposite. Here his voice is strong and earnest with Oates adding fine harmonies. It’s a wonderful song and perfectly executed.
There’s more roots rumbling on the closing Dancing With My Pride (co written with cellist Bob Leipman) which utilises the woody timbre of the cello (played here by Nat Smith) to underscore the elemental aspects of the song as Starr picks upon a theme suggested by his reading of a book written by his grandfather. Here he sings of a farmer wronged in the past but for whom hope springs eternal as the song sashays from haunting verses to a countrified middle eight with the cello coming across like a fiddle and parlaying with mandolin and pedal steel. Again this song exemplifies the contradictions that Starr dots throughout the EP as the song attempts to defeat pessimism with an optimistic hope for the future and there’s a wonderful moment when his voice just drops into a whisper on the last line of “I’ll forgive her soon by the light of the prairie moon. Imagining her kiss and her sweet perfume. I’ll close my eyes and I’ll see her face , in a dream I’ll be the man I hoped to be. But for now…” in a manner that is reminiscent of Warren Zevon.
Elsewhere Starr heads into darker territory on a pair of songs which have a burnished sheen to them that is in danger of roaming into AOR in the eighties. Waiting In The Dark shimmers with a menace as Starr descends into drugdom in the inner city but the scything guitars and polished production mark the song as somewhat out of step with the overall sound of the EP. I’ve Come For You is another rainpuddled neon sign reflective slice of nightlife but it’s delivered much more successfully with some actual wickedness in the slide guitars and a sense of venom in Starr’s vocals.
Finally, Starr takes the brave step of covering California Dreaming, a song that’s imprinted on just about everyone and a choice that beggars the question of why redo this one? Apparently it was suggested by Oates as fitting into the EP’s theme of contrasts and for sure, despite it being thought of as the epitome of hippie heaven, the song actually is a wistful plea to be in sunny climes as the singer is stuck in a cold and dreary place. Starr (and Oates) take this melancholic yearning as the starting point for a dramatically reinvented version that replaces the Mamas & Papas soaring vocals for a wintry and claustrophobic New York winter feel, the band closer to The Insect Trust than Papa John and Mama Cass.
Davis Starr is currently touring the UK. all dates here including a Blabber’n’Smoke House Concert on 23rd May. PM for details.