Plumtucker - Solo Stages
There are two very well defined musical experiences that cause me to weep: John Lennon singing "Imagine" and Warren Zevon singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Those tears are shed as much for the sense of loss of musical giants too-soon-taken, as for the beauty of the performances. I am now, however, prepared to add a third musical event that moves me to mistiness: Plumtucker's David Lutes singing anything. The pristine beauty of David's voice sends me away, and the tears spring not from the melancholy of losing what was, but from the joy of celebrating what is.
I first came into contact with David Lutes at a Plumtucker show at San Antonio's now-defunct Red Room. As soon as the music started, I knew I was in the presence of something very special. I purchased Plumtucker's 2006 release, Lightning Wheels (read my review), at that show, and I've since purchased no less than ten more copies to distribute to friends and family. So to say I was looking forward to a new album from Plumtucker is a bit of an understatement. I yearned for it.
All that build-up could have left me with a very disappointed feeling when I finally heard the new record. After all, how can any record live up to these expectations? I check myself every so often to gauge the "letdown factor" -- I truly am my own worst critic -- and I think I'm fairly levelheaded about such things, so it was with very little trepidation that I slipped the CD into the player and sat back to listen.
The first song on Solo Stages is the traditional "900 Miles," which is appropriate, because this is a live album, recorded at three separate shows, one in Georgia and two in the UK, far from David's wife Caroline, who was pregnant with their daughter Ruby at the time. David's voice soars beautifully as he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and he slides seamlessly into his original song "This Echo Life."
In fact, the whole album is rather seamless. Recorded in listening room environments, the record feels as if we are enjoying an intimate evening in our living room with Plumtucker, aka David Lutes. James Williams does step in with lead guitar and backing vocals on one song, "My River," but other than that it's all David all the time. He tells stories and regales us with his observations on life in the form of beautifully crafted songs.
The (writers, please take note) correctly punctuated "Rise Up, Elijah," is the standout on the record. It's a heartfelt song about a slave family in the 19th-century Deep South, a father telling his son to escape now, even though he knows that means they may never see each other again. David's voice is perfectly tuned, and his performance is mesmerizing as he delivers the father's plea to his son, Elijah, with the chorus:
Rise up, Elijah, my only son.
Think of your mother, my true one gone.
And look to heaven with your final prayer, and I'll find you there.
Although this is a live record, it is only Plumtucker's second release, so it is mostly new material, with just three of the nine songs repeated from Lightning Wheels. My one disappointment is that my favorite song from that record, "Over The Moon," is not included on Solo Stages, but, then, it really wouldn't have been the same without Caroline's harmony vocals, which is how I've always heard it performed live, so good call there.
Americana fans, step up to the plate on this one. Solo Stages presents Americana with slight jazz overtones, ethereal but earthbound lyrics enhanced by elegant melodies. And that voice, David's voice. Listen to the record and shed a tear for the beauty of what is.
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