Eef Barzelay Bitter Honey

[Spin Art; 2006]

Styles: solo acoustic, story folk
Others: Leonard Cohen, The Mountain Goats, Charlie McAlister

Bitter Honey is a smart, garrulous collection of folk songs from Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay. The recordings capture Barzelay's wayward, full-throated singing, lightly echoed, and his mostly orthodox chord progressions on the guitar. Eef tackles a variety of traditional folk themes, including love, leaving, and drunkenness, but he does so with a seductive knack for selecting just the right details to render his narrators and characters both loveable and unsettling at once. He sells his clever, lovely lyrics with an "earnest" delivery, at times wailing, letting his vowels swing open like old screen doors that kick back into place in slow, groaning jerks. It's this well-turned combination of lyricism and showmanship that escorts songs like "Ballad of Bitter Honey" from gimmicky or saccharine play to a place that's both plausible and poignant. Said ballad is the first person narrative of a worldwise extra from a Ludacris video. Not many could pull this off. Barzelay does.

Most of the other songs are more conventional lover-to-lover apostrophes, but Barzelay repeatedly chips and scratches at sentimental façades other songwriters leave pristine. He reveals the prickly, dangerous underside of affection, the curiosities and obsessions that subtend otherwise cuddly relationships. Lines like "I will graze your like the sun does the grass/ and pick at your flesh like an eagle" and "sometimes I wish you would die/ just to see how it would feel" are sung sans angst and accrue emotional weight with each listen. His drinking song, "I Wasn't Really Drunk," appeals to both the inebriated and the sober, offering witty observations on unshared sobriety and choruses that are equally fun to slur or ponder.

By the time Barzelay has finished his rendition of "Joy to the World," he has scored an impressive success: recording an album with the oft-used (and abused) simplicity of a voice and guitar that rewards each listen by dint of its superb songcraft. Bravo.

1. Ballad Of Bitter Honey
2. Thanksgiving Waves
3. NMA
4. Well
5. Words That Escape Me
6. Little Red Dot
7. Let Us Be Naked
8. I Wasn’t Really Drunk
9. Escape Artist
10. Joy To The World

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