The problem that many musicians (particularly those associated with music genres which are usually aligned with “youth” as a concept – like pop, rock and punk) run into as time passes is that, at most, they age awkwardly – if they figure out how to age at all. That might sound odd, but think about it, reader; rock, pop, punk et cetera all have a sense of rebellion at their core, and those making the music understand the idea of limitations which were placed on or around them by those artists who preceded them. Eventually though, those would-be oppressors fade from the foreground and leave those young punks who had something to prove with the problem that they have been left in the foreground and now THEY must decide what they’re going to do with that freedom, as well as how they’re going to present it.
Lots of musicians have illustrated that they have no idea how to grow up with the passage of time but, on Coyote, Spencer Burton illustrates that he not only knows how to grow up, he knows how to age gracefully.
As needle settles into groove and “Things I Can’t Do” opens the A-side of Coyote, listeners who have followed Burton’s output for a while will recognize some differences implied in the sound and demeanor of the album. Here, Burton’s understated and modest vocal melody endures in much the same way it has since the singer first appeared after the demise of Attack In Black – but there is also a confidence and warmth in his delivery of lines like, “Drink coffee black, smoke cigarettes/ Work hard – until I sweat/ These are the things that I can’t do – without you” that can only come with time and experience – and are capable of utterly winning listeners over completely on their own, but are made undeniable by the serene tone of the acoustic guitar which underscores them. After the song ends, listeners of the right mind will still be feeling a really potent body buzz as “Memories We Won’t Soon Forget” follows “Things I Can’t Do” with about the same tone and tempo and really establishes the theme through the album as “Love At First Sight” (although the third cut benefits from a fantastic drum performance too), but “Memory Lane” sees that tone shift ever-so-slightly as Burton adds a bit of dimly lit and wizened emotional depth in a similar vein to both Chris Isaak’s moodier moments and Leonard Cohen’s lighter ones.
By the time “Memory Lane” hits as it does so late in the side, the hook cast out by Spencer Burton will be well-set and listeners will be hanging on every word – which is the perfect set-up for the side-closer “Further.” There, with a sweet country soul in line with Tom Patty’s, Burton almost wistfully paints the image of, “a house on the hill – feel the flame/ People all pray to go there, lord I pray for rain/ Just wash it all away, go back to a better day.” There’s a comfort to be found in this, and the classic, folksy vibe of the cut renders it so warm and inviting that no listener will really want to leave. It’s with those words that Burton really sets himself up as a front-runner and the finest in a new breed of songwriter which completely stands apart from his peers; sure, earlier on the side Burton hit upon some key notes – but it is with “Further” that the singer sets a standard that will have that aforementioned peer group taking notes and listeners hoping they can keep up.
As strongly as “Further” closes the A-side, “Breath” finds a different power with which to open the B-. There, with some sighing background singers in tow which sound as though they may have worked on Leonard Cohen’s last album, Burton sets a hypnotic and sleepy step which sets itself completely apart from the flip-, and doesn’t so much reset listeners up for the comfort it inspires as it does simply continue forward, seamlessly. It’s a beautiful and completely unique play. Immediately thereafter, Burton shoots for some straight-up, ‘where the buffalo roam’-brand country (“Nothing’s Changed”) as well as some of the same with lapsteel added on “Horseback” before observing some Tragically Hip-pish orthodoxy with “Lonesome Dove” and then angling toward some more abstract, Dylan-esque balladry with “Hard Times”. With such significant left turns examined, readers who have yet to experience Coyote might assume that the B-side of Coyote is a scattered affair grasping desperately for a sense of the coherence which was so clear on the album’s A-side – but that could not be further from the truth. Rather, the pieces which appear on the B-side enhance the flavor which was also evident on the A- and, when “Human Touch” finally comes along to gently close out the proceedings listeners will be able to relax easily with it, comforted by the knowledge that they received a full course when the needle lifts.
Taking the entire album and each turn it makes into account, there’s no doubt that those who run front-to-back with Coyote will not have been left wanting by the experience. Each piece on this album is perfectly savory and won’t leave anyone who starts with it still hungry – it is a complete experience. That said, Coyote doesn’t leave any loose ends hanging which could imply what the singer might do with his next effort; neatly sewn up as it is, those who run front-to-back with Coyote will be happy to experience the music again, but also excited to see what Spencer Burton’s next step might be on his next album. [Bill Adams]
Ground Control Magazine – Spencer Burton – Coyote – [CD review]
Coyote is out now on Still Records/Dine Alone. Order it here directly from Dine Alone.