Andy Shauf | The Bearer of Bad News | PDX-008 TLE-053 (Feb 3rd, 2015)
“It’s hard to explain if you’ve never lived here,” sings Andy Shauf on the epic elegy “Wendell Walker,” the centerpiece of his stunning album The Bearer of Bad News. Shauf makes it seem easy to coax forth beauty from the dimmest of corners, forming gorgeous songs by conjuring vivid particulars of place and character through dark word craft, a gooseflesh-inducing tenor and wide-open instrumentation. You feel him summoning energy from the loamy soil of his Saskatchewan homeland. You sense the hardscrabble shapes of prairie landscapes and lives in his warm guitar tone, wind-swept piano, and lilting clarinet.
At the same time, like any great songwriter, Shauf straddles the gulf between the particular and the universal - uncovering big ideas and feelings in tiny moments and seemingly minor narratives. His lyrical references may be local, but his sound on Bearer evokes timeless rock n’ roll that’s reminiscent of Paul Simon, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith. These rare musical, writerly chops set Shauf well apart from the legions of other songwriter types that blend into cafe scenery everywhere.
Shauf approaches the songs on The Bearer of Bad News with the economy and care of an architect: everything in its proper place. The sparse drums and clarinet swells in “I’m Not Falling Asleep” or the spare yet evocative use of cello in “Covered In Dust,” for example. As a result, Bearer sounds remarkably lovely, spacious, and grand, which makes it all the more surprising that he self-recorded the whole album on a shoestring budget in his Regina basement.
With the help of his astounding, intimate live performances, Shauf is deservedly garnering a reputation as an artist to keep your eyes and ears on - a seasoned songsmith who’s worth your time.