Destination Blues

Butchers Blind

Paradiddle Records, 2013

http://www.butchersblind.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/24/2015

“Sat down at the office to make ends meet
They gave me a desk and a paycheck a week
Thirty years at the company, I walked out the door
Because nobody hears what I say anymore”

So opens Destination Blues, the superb 2013 album from Long Island’s own Butchers Blind. The opening verse is sung a cappella, with frontman/guitarist/composer Pete Mancini’s resigned lead vocal complemented by harmonies from drummer Paul Cianciaruso. Guitar, bass, drums and fiddle enter with the second verse to carry you through a genuinely desolate tale of economic and personal dissolution that ends with another a cappella verse, if anything sadder than the first.

Mancini’s tunes, brought to life by a group that includes Cianciaruso on drums, Brian Reilly on bass, and various guests on electric guitar, fiddle, Hammond organ and mandolin, deliver a downcast yet compelling strain of Americana, with a strong Jeff Tweedy/Wilco influence heard in Mancini’s vocals and flavorings of acts like The Band, the Jayhawks and Gram Parsons in the music.

The blues referenced in the title are felt throughout this album, which is dotted with moments and images of dislocation and defeat. Mancini’s vocals resonate with a low-key desperation that’s more resigned than angry, though. “This is just the way it is,” his tone implies again and again, “and all we can do is try to deal with it.”

Russ Seeger’s fiddle adds an appropriately mournful touch to opener “Nobody Hears What I Say Anymore” before “Tear It Down” picks up the tempo, led by jangly guitars and an assertive, cymbal-heavy rhythm section. “Spend your whole life listening and never make a sound” says the again-voiceless narrator, eventually advising the listener to “Settle down and make peace with what you’ve made.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Third track “OPP” carries echoes of the Gin Blossoms’ occasional country-rock leanings with more jangly twin guitars. “Talk about other peoples’ problems / Drink and think of ways we can solve them / But there’s nothing we can do” goes the refrain, that somehow ends up feeling exhausted but not despairing, finding some solace in camaraderie. The title track ambles along next with this matter-of-fact advice: “Find some peace between the lines / Don’t let change pull you under / Destinations bleed you dry…”

There’s a lot to recommend through the latter two-thirds of the album—the lesson in trust offered by “Honestly,” the tart acoustic kiss-off of “Drowned,” the dirge-like “Selfish Silent Films,” and the tranquilized country-rock closer “Burn Up Bright (Lower East Side),” with its Ryan Adams-meets-The Cowboy Junkies vibe. But two highlights stand out.

The Pettyesque “Enough Already Anyway,” the most upbeat tune here, brings the jangle and world-weary vocals to bear on an upbeat tune that’s a tribute to an unidentified musical hero, talking about how the narrator wishes he could have met him, but that’s okay because “You’ve given me enough already anyway.” It’s a generous sentiment that feels almost out of place in today’s entitled world.

Still, albums like this one, full of understated craft and artistry, can turn either way on a single phrase or moment. For this listener, it was the second verse of the philosophical character study “College Town” that sealed the deal:

“Settled down in a smaller room, miles away from home
Lights fluorescent called her name, told her where to go
Bible black hair, cross to bear, disconnected look on her face
Vodka drinks made her think that she got away”

Four simple lines and I don’t just know this character, I’m invested. I want to write an entire story about her life before, during and after this moment. That, my friends, is terrific songwriting.

Butchers Blind are part of a Long Island scene that I’ve become familiar with in recent years via contemporaries like Bryan Gallo, Robert Bruey and Jean-Paul Vest (Last Charge Of The Light Horse). I don’t know if it’s something in the water out there, but you can add Butchers Blind to the list of top-notch talent lurking just down the LIE. Destination Blues is an album that stays with you long after the music finishes.

Rating: A-

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