Paul Duncan Above the Trees

[Hometapes; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: chamber country
Others: Will Oldham, Will Oldham, and also Will Oldham

Let’s see if I can get through this without mentioning Will Oldham. Oops, I blew it. (Dammit.) Will is just all over this album. Duncan’s voice sounds like an alternate-past, young Oldham, as if he’d been Bonnie Billy the entire time. The arrangements are the Louisville Slugger’s through and through, with “High in the Morning” managing to sound like the identical (identical) twin of “Cursed Sleep” from last year’s The Letting Go. The first half of the album works up a sort of Greatest Palace Music/The Letting Go Oldham fervor before unbearably peaking with “High in the Morning.” None of the tracks are bad; in fact they’re supremely listenable, but it’s simply rote Oldham County for at least the first half of the album.

After that, Paul emerges “Above the Trees” of Oldhamwood. (A stunning turn of phrase.) Unfortunately, the sub-two-minute, wordless transition is the most purely enjoyable track on the album. Its simple, repeated melodic theme is played by guitar and piano over Theremin, low key brass, and easy moans. It’s idyllic. Duncan then moves to where he should’ve been the entire album. The final three tracks are easily the most unique -- more stripped and interestingly arranged than the preceding ones. Synths and electronic touches are more heavily featured, and Duncan breaks from the Oldham-esque melodic tendencies of the early tracks. Lap steel guitar is still all over the place, but I love that instrument, so I do not care at all.

Though Above the Trees is his third album, it seems Paul Duncan still needs a little time to fully develop the Paul Duncan sound. Lyrically, Duncan stands strong, with plenty of opaque, dark shit full of metaphors and wintry imagery, but as technically good as the album may be, it simply can’t escape You Know Who. Paul just needs another shot, and Above the Trees is accomplished enough to make me want to give it to him.

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