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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

Bill Santen
In The Night Kitchen (CD)

I never met a Bill Santen creation I didn't like. Yep. But why not extend that proclamation to: "I haven't met a Birddog creation I didn't like"? Well, that's a true statement as well. But as the main force behind that band's boozy, sometimes harrowing country folk tunes, it's clear that the genesis of the greatness lies in Santen himself. And that's not at all to put down the amazing contributions of his bandmates or past album guest luminaries like Elliott Smith and Edith Frost. It's just that he's equally adept at making the music sound just as original and beautiful by himself. Which I can't say about all the hordes of bedroom singer-songwriter solo types that flood our mailboxes with demos. His signature slightly wobbly twang and evocative down-n-out lyrics are an unbeatable combination.

Santen's first solo attempt is called "In The Night Kitchen" and it's immediately clear that with only that acoustic guitar he can affect that same timeless storytelling magic, to cop a Disney attitude or two. But in this short 8 song tour de force, Mickey lives down by the river and works long hard hours down at the steel mill for 50 years just to get that gold watch when he retires, a broken down rodent. The song that inspired that comment, "Gold Watch Blues", uses standard folk blues chords to tell about the torments that the average joe on the street will put himself through just to make appearances meet. That "successful cog in the machinery of life" theme is present in many other songs like "Captain Blood and St. September", where he laments "spent half our lives worrying about monday..." This is an album about the blues and whether he's singing about love or toil, Santen comes across as the consummate spinner of stories. The slow harmonica-buzzed ballad "Redbud" was one of my favorites tales, again echoing that toil theme ("Let's work till we're worthless and settle down...") "Cincinnate Sings" sounds a bit different than the others; less country folk and more standard pop on this one.

Santen definitely has the gift of wrapping darkpower soul so eloquently around words and music that it shines softly instead of burning us with bile. His tales are caution signposts that listeners find themselves pausing at again and again. Yeah, the road is bumpy; we need more albums like this to guide us along.

- review by BY (10.19.04)        

Sweatin Betty Records
P.O. Box 742
Athens, GA 30603

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