Thursday, June 11, 2015

Dan Patlansky's Dear Silence Thieves (2014) brings it home.

Dan Patlansky is hosting one of his annual guitar weekends in the Stellenbosch surrounds at the end of June 2015 and he invites 30 guitarists of various skill levels to join him to learn technical stuff about playing the guitar.  I guess, if you want to learn technical stuff about playing the guitar, that Dan is your man because he certainly is technically proficient on the instrument.

On the other hand, Dan has thus far not had great success with songwriting, that is: how to put together a decent, memorable tune with some melody and some hooks that will linger in the mind long after you’ve finished listening to the album.  I own all of Patlansky’s albums and for the life of me I cannot recall any single tune off any of them.

Well, that was very true until Dear Silence Thieves where Dan Patlansky has, much to my surprise, recorded an album that has at least one very memorable tune, “Windmills and the Sea,” and a number of others, if not memorable, that are pretty decent efforts as the combo of song and performance.

I would go so far as to say that this is Dan Patlansky’s best rock album, the album on which he’s reached maturity as artist and has produced a piece of work that is very listenable and bears repeated listening, unlike the previous 4 or 5 albums.  

The Patlansky method used to be that he would write a nifty riff, prepare a solid arrangement with a bit of funk in it, and then add some perfunctory lyrics he can sing with a hoarse voice to impart the feel of emotion that is otherwise lacking. The other approach is to play meandering, “atmospheric” instrumentals that show off his command of chord and note voicings and still have no emotional impact.  One cannot help but admire his technique and ability and unfortunately that was generally the high point of the previous albums: technique and ability.

For Dear Silence Thieves Patlansky has more or less abandoned all pretense of being a straight blues musician and is now firmly entrenched in the field of the modern blues rock funk guitarists who might be influenced by blues and play some blues changes and blues inflected guitar solos but who are miles removed from the genre.  This is not necessarily a negative and the power and flashy dexterity with which Patlansky plays is probably suited to a rock audience anyhow. The thick smear of power guitar chords are aided and abetted by rock funk bass and that grating loud, dull, reverberating thud of drums that I particularly dislike although it works quite well in a hard rock context. The main effect of this relentless hard rock drum sound is to add a deliberate pounding power to the performances and removes any of the taught swing that good ensemble blues has. In fact, the Dan Patlansky band at times sound like mid-Nineties grunge with blues guitar solos

The chunky chordal riffing and fluent solos are present and correct, as is the hoarse intensity of his voice and this time he has quite decent batch of songs too. Thankfully there is absolutely no atmospheric instrumental track. Even better: there are no pointless, uninspired and crappy cover versions.  

“Pop Collar Jockey” (WTF?) has a very excellent melodic guitar solo and “Hold On,” “Your War,” “Feels Like Home,” “Windmills and the Sea” and “Madison Lane” have choruses that resonate and the last two are warm, partly acoustic songs that are as tender as Patlansky can get.  “Windmills and the Sea” is probably the best thing on this album.

One wonders why Patlansky keeps releasing albums, as it does not seem to me that he has a driving need to write songs. Perhaps it is anther income stream; he can sell the albums at his gigs, by mail order and via iTunes. It all ads up.

Having said that, Dan Patlansky has hit something of a jackpot with Dear Silence Thieves, unlike the recent release by Sannie Fox, Serpente Masjien, which is about as tedious a collection of uninspired tracks as one can get.  Patlansky’s music exudes verve and brio.

Don’t get me wrong: Dear Silence Thieves is not an undiluted masterpiece and is not a record I will listen to a lot, and perhaps it shines only in comparison to its half-baked predecessors. But. And very big “but” at that. But this is a damn fine example of the genre and a damn fine example of how Patlansky is on his way, if he can maintain this standard and improve on his songwriting, to genuine greatness that goes beyond simple amazing technical ability.

I guess it is a good thing that an album grows on one, and improves with each listen.  That is what defines a keeper. Before Dear Silence Thieves the albums simply became more irritating the more one listened to them.  This time the pleasure has grown exponentially with repetition. Damn, son!