Right off the bat, a plaintive voice confesses “I’m a coward.” So begins Sidewalk Dave’s Songs for Cowards, the latest effort from this Connecticut four piece. The same narrator on the album’s final cut — his voice scarred by experience and emboldened with newfound confidence and resolve — announces “I’m no coward.” Quite a lofty goal to attempt a transformation from cowardice to bravery within the half-hour confines of an album.
Sidewalk Dave succeeds, and we’re all the better for it.
Along the way there’s an inspired cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Chord Organ Blues” that starts off with percussion that sounds exactly like The Flying Lizards’ cover of the Barrett Strong classic “Money (That’s What I Want).” When frontman Dave Van Witt howls “For every chord that is played / There is a reward in my heart that has paid. / ‘Cause my soul loves music / And it loves to hear it made,” he makes you believe it right down deep in your soul — or at least the soles of your feet.
The pealing guitars and raw vocals on these songs are reminiscent of early Camper Van Beethoven at their best, sans ska beats and ubiquitous whiny violin. Actually, the album evokes a mood of landlocked pirates belting out concrete sea shanties on dusty street corners, cobbling together new anthems for the fearful and dispossessed wishing to break out of their self-constructed prisons.
“Wallet” is an energizing dirge, an aural contradiction: “My wallet is so paper thin / I’m afraid it might blow away in the wind” — you almost end up feeling sorry for those poor slobs who have more than you do, or who aren’t “a dying breed.” It’s pure poverty as a badge of courage.
Sidewalk Dave do not ask for pity with these songs; theirs is a call to action: face your fears. You get so caught up in the emotional content throughout Songs for Cowards that by the end you don’t feel pummeled by the message, so much as surrounded and absorbed by it.
The short “War at the Altar” ends the effort with the mantra, “I’m no coward” repeated in different guises. A brave effort, to be sure.