What does it mean when an unsigned artist releases an album whose songwriting utterly outshines those of the established and elite, arena-filling Nashville mega-stars?
It means big labels need to open their eyes because there’s a plethora of real talent out there — you just have to know where to look. Like Brooklyn, NY.
When many popular bands are releasing sappy, yawn-inducing, self-centered pop songs sung with a Southern twang and some fiddles thrown in for good measure, The Reverend John DeLore opens his debut, Ode to an American Urn, with “Art of War”: “The bed sheets were dirty so we just rolled on the floor. / Rested my chin on her chest and confessed I‘m afraid of the war.” It’s pure metaphor: love as sex and sex as war; don’t kill your enemy for your country, but do it for the woman waiting for you to hurry home and “wrap your tinsel ‘round her Christmas tree.”
DeLore’s talent exists not only within his lyrics — he’s published numerous volumes of poetry — but in his highly infectious melodies that linger long after the music’s over. His poetic work might also explain the title as a tribute to that classic ode of Keats’.
He roams that problematic (for some folks) crossover territory between desolate country and shimmery-guitar pop. Added to the mix is one of the most magnificent Leonard Cohen covers in the history of covers: “Iodine” simply aches with longing and regret, DeLore’s vocals and David Cieri’s piano working in divine complement as if waltzing around a sad and dimly lit room.
The strolling rock ‘n’ roll beat and bluesy piano seem only to perpetuate the narrator’s confusion on “Jerusalem,” and you can’t help but sing along with the chorus at the end, about those two moons.
The rattlesnake percussion on “Take A Ride” is enough to make your skin crawl, as is the “un-intelligible, dirty-talking oldmanspeak” under the creepy Hammond at the fadeout. Kara Suzanne provides some fine vocals on “Wounded Knee,” and the steam-train percussion of “Don’t Fall Asleep at the Wheel Tonight” lends a hypnotic companion to one of the album’s most touching and heartfelt offerings. “Slow Down” simultaneously reflects on and foreshadows two lives in a spare and delicate song.
The only mis-step — and it’s a minor one — comes on “In’Shallah” which is bookended with riffs reminiscent of Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foghat. Intentional or not, it was amusingly distracting.
Throughout Ode to an American Urn, DeLore has assembled an enchanting work of Americana art worthy of our attention — and that of major labels.
In Keats’ words, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.”
Play on, Reverend.
Listen to the entire album HERE.