Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Absolutely first-class, richly lyrical Nashville gothic from Asheville, North Carolina tunesmith Jeff Zentner. The instrumentation is mostly acoustic, very rustic in places but the lyrical vision is completely in the here and now. The often white-knuckle intensity in the songs and Zentner’s sometimes breathy voice remind a lot of Matt Keating, particularly his Summer Tonight album from a couple of years ago; musically, it’s a lot closer to the nocturnal sound of Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis’ haunting solo work. Zentner plays pretty much all the instruments here except the piano and harmonium, sparsely and elegantly arranged. The production is particularly smart, the music perfectly matching the brooding feel of the lyrics, an intricate web of stringed instruments awash in eerie, echoey reverb, pedal steel soaring mournfully overhead.

The songs span from vivid narratives, a few sad waltzes and a couple of hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes, notably Where We Fall We’ll Lie, the most overtly gothic song here with insistent, incisive guitars and hushed, haunted male/female vocals in the same vein as Black Fortress of Opium. With its echoey vocals over acoustic guitar and spiky banjo, the vividly metaphorical, bluegrass-inflected Burning Season may be the strongest track here:

It’s burning season again…

Lays waste to all that we knew

Smoke from the fire rises from the desolate fields

I see the ghosts like a daze…

I did not survive your burning season

I was not the only one

I may be the only person who rises from the ashes…

Slide guitar soaring in the background, Somewhere South of Here is heavy with longing for escape from” this place of trailer parks and auto parts stores,” to “cities built to forget, some great distance south of here.” Night Jasmine is absolutely gorgeous, something of an elegy for the people of the night where he’s from, cello playing off the banjo for some exquisite textures, cigarette smoke hanging in the air as the cicadas drown out the band:

This became a ruin

It can’t survive the morning

Like so many people I know

The Weight of Memory echoes David Bowie’s Five Years:

The good ones weigh more…

The ghosts that in me dwell

They won’t let me sleep

They hurt me so much now

And I’m still a young man

How will I grow old

I have no room inside

The rest of the album mixes wary, doom-obsessed ballads like the pedal steel-driven To Speak Above the Rain with pensive laments, ending with a mix of optimism and dread with the stately waltz If This Is To Be Goodbye:

Let me believe that love’s nature is such

That you’d rather leave me than tell me a lie

Darker than Iron & Wine, more deeply steeped in Americana than Nick Cave, this nonetheless ought to appeal to both camps. Right now Zentner is offering a special, copies of his first album Hymns to the Darkness plus the new one both for $23, email for info. Watch for this on our best 50 albums list of 2009 at the end of the year.

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May 13, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Jeff Zentner is truly a “wordsmith.” His lyrics rich with visuals. His songs haunt me…in a good way.

    Comment by Kathryn | May 13, 2009 | Reply


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