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Barton Hartshorn: I Died of Boredom and Came Back As Me
by George Graham
(BFD Records as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/17/2019)
There are certainly enough singer-songwriters around, so it takes something to stand out. Artists can distinguish themselves through their lyrical prowess, or their vocals, or by their stylistic approach. Sometimes, it also helps to have an interesting back-story as well.
This week, we have a new release by a distinctive singer-songwriter, but one whose music is thoroughly approachable. It fact it’s retro-sounding in a way, evoking the likes of Steely Dan or Randy Newman. It’s by Barton Hartshorn, and it bears the clever title I Died of Boredom and Came Back as Me. It’s his second release, but the first to be officially issued in the US.
Barton Hartshorn is not his real name. That’s the name of the village in England where he grew up. He tells the story of going to Melbourne, Australia, and taking a job as a chef, being about as far away from home as possible. He tells of sketching the ideas for his songs during downtime at his job there, using pieces of paper that he would scribble on at work. He had previously released an album and put in stints as a studio drummer at times while not working as a chef, working in Australia, serving up food in a noisy restaurant, perhaps his situation was the inspiration for the phrase that became the album title. He decided to take the name of his hometown and set out on a new identity. He is currently living in Paris, and that is where he recorded this fan-financed album. The result is a record of clever songs, often lyrically opaque enough that the listener can read into them what one would. Hartshorn has an appealing vocal style, and the arrangements and song-structure can evoke the elaborate musical and lyrical narrative style and occasional sardonic bent of Steely Dan. Those arrangements vary quite a bit on the album with occasional hints of country with some steel guitar, and also jazz influence at other times. The most prominent backing musician on the album is Vincent Guibert, who also served as producer. He is heard on keyboards bass, and some guitar and drums.. But there are other players, mostly Paris-based musicians for more guitars, percussion, backing vocals and horns at various times.
Opening is a piece called Everything Is Better Than Before, which is a little more conventionally stylistic in its arrangement, evoking a bit of country influence with the steel guitar. It’s an optimistic celebration of an apparent love found. <<>>
From Wishing is an upbeat-sounding, melodic song with somewhat bittersweet lyrics. <<>>
A piece called Something This Bright Should Explode is another opus taking a somewhat unconventional approach to the love-song form. <<>>
Barton Hartshorn’s influence by Steely Dan is also apparent in the track called Budapest Hotel, and that’s a compliment. Both composition and the arrangement are strong. <<>>
Paperman is another song with a kind of retro sound, evoking some soul influence, and providing another set of lyrics to ponder. <<>>
With some of the same influences is Do It Yourself which contains the line that forms the title of the album. <<>>
More rock-oriented in texture is Looking Back for the Best, another convoluted love song. <<>>
The album ends with its longest piece, Seven Sisters a which could be interpreted as being autobiographical. <<> It features a little room for instrumental solos in the context of the melodic composition. <<>>
I Died of Boredom and Came Back as Me, the new album by British native and current Paris resident Barton Hartshorn, is an excellent musically sophisticated singer-songwriter project. Hartshorn’s songs have all the right ingredients, with lyrics that are more evocative than expository. He’s got an appealing vocal style, and the album’s arrangements and song structure are first-rate, performed tastefully by his Paris-based group. It’s the sort of album than can really grow on you.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B-plus. The vocals are well-recorded and the mix has everything in the right place, allowing one better to appreciate the nice instrumental arrangements on the recording. The dynamic range is mediocre at best, with the usual excess of volume compression, which somewhat undermines the arrangements which do have a good ebb and flow.
Barton Hartshorn’s story is an interesting one, taking his stage name from his English hometown and all, and writing the music while serving as a chef in Australia, then taking up residence in Paris. It seems that some of that complexity manifests itself in the album’s music. In any case, it’s a thoroughly worthwhile recording and an impressive way for American audiences to hear this distinctive artist.
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