Friday, March 4, 2011

The Next Right Thing

Watching an artist’s trajectory can be thrilling. While with some artists, the question is how will their talent develop, with others the question is what will they do with all that freaking talent.

Seth Glier has innate songwriting instincts that put some experienced songwriters to shame. He understands structure and how to develop ideas from component to component. He has an agility, and facilty, with rhyme, and doesn’t overuse it; knowing when to surprise the ear with internal rhymes, and knowing when to smooth the edges with near rhymes. He finds and weaves images that catch the ear and engage the inner eye.

Besides the writing ability, he is an accomplished composer and pianist, and has a gorgeous tenor voice complete with a daring falsetto. See him in performance sometime. He is the real deal, the complete package, the cat’s meow *and* pajamas.

So after traveling the country back and forth, doing his early experimentation on self-produced CDs, developing a fan base and settling into a performance style, finally getting a real label-produced CD out into the world......what does he do next?

He does The Next Right Thing.

There is a lot of say about Seth’s second MPress-produced album and not all of it can fit in this blog post. You hear him reaching for new points of view, yearning for the life experience to give him more to write about; trying different metaphorical languages, willing to let himself fail, and far more often succeeding.

The first striking thing about the CD is how stylistically different the opening title track is from the rest of the album. ‘The Next Right Thing” (which often opens his show) is a high vocal over a Native American drumbeat, an a capella two-verse rumination on religion. The first verse describes a huge multi-cultural religious gathering, lamenting and praying and condemning; the second verse describes a woman dying on her bed, praying for a favorable judgement. With the chorus “People need a miracle/To do the Next Right Thing.”

The rest of the album has ballads of all sorts (even uptempo ones like “Lauralee”) and after the first track you think you may have wandered into the wrong playlist; but listening, and sinking deeper into each song, you begin to realize Seth has written an album about faith. And hope. And wondering what, if anything, to believe in.

Not only in explicitly religious songs like “Down With The Ship” with the iconography and discussion of belief systems, or “I Don’t Need You” in which the singer needs hope and faith and something to believe. But in “Book of Matches” where a family’s house burns down and the singer (and the family) think more of the love and future they still have. And in “What The Others Have Done,” in which a woman considers the latest in a string of men, hoping this one will finally be the one. Or in the two back-to-back songs about driving long distances to see a girl (“Walk Katy Home” and “Lauralee”), in which a journey is taken with the hope of love and redemption at the end. Belief and faith and hope come up again and again in these songs.

What’s most exciting is to hear Seth deliberating changing the narrative voice. It’s very easy to fall into writing “I/You” songs -- where the singer “I” is discussing his relationship with the girl (“You”), and certainly those songs are in here -- good ones, too. But there are songs about other characters (“Down With The Ship, “What The Others Have Done”, “Book of Matches”), even female characters, as well as a straight narration song like “The Next Right Thing.” Even “I Don’t Need You,” though it clearly is an “I/You” song, is more about what the singer *does* need, other than someone to love.

This is a lovely album and worth several, or numerous, or myriad listens. And as always, Seth’d beautiful voice, piano and writing, and supported and shaped by Ryan Hommel’s (producer/sideman/BFF) guitar and production.