Lullaby for the Working Class | Song (Bar/None Records, 1999)

spin_lullaby.gifThe most striking aspect of Song is its masterful use of space.

 

 

 

Before I move into describing the above-mentioned work of music, I want to quickly address a sort of "uncomfortableness" that some had experienced after reading my recent review of the Marcia Funebre in Beethoven’s Third Symphony. As I have so far reviewed only rock music, some were taken back a bit that I reviewed a piece of music that was not only not rock, but also over 200 years old and anything but contemporary. Well, without wasting too many more words on this subject, let me first say that I do appreciate the criticism received (as it was generally constructive), but the only critical use I have for classifying music as "contemporary" is in regard to its effect on the ear and if it is relevant and alive today. Music does not have an expiration date and neither does soul. If a piece of music can save you, comfort you or enlighten you, do you really care that it wasn’t released this year? With that I will rest my case and get on with the task at hand: describing an album from a band that no longer exists.

Lullaby for the Working Class was a band out of Lincoln, Neb., that was, for all intents and purposes, only active during the mid- to late-’90s. Song was their third and final release, and for some reason I can only imagine it to be their best and most far-reaching.

The most striking aspect of Song is its masterful use of space. What I mean by this is the confidence and musical maturity the band used to balance the importance of the notes being played with the notes not being played. It is an often neglected fact in composition that the music is defined not only by the notes being played, but also by the space between the notes. The gentleness and awareness exhibited by Lullaby for the Working Class is truly admirable and shows musicians comfortable with their craft.

"Expand Contract," the opening song, is captivating in its delicate introduction to the album and eases the ear to intrigue as Ted Stevens’ vocals only softly enter just before the three-minute mark. With its use of simple organ, banjo, strings and drums, it becomes clear that this will be an album that needs to be taken seriously.

The grace with which this indie/folk rock album elegantly and unhurriedly rolls along is something to be savored slowly. It recalls one of walking down a long, straight road under gray skies while the cracked and worn sidewalk endlessly refreshes itself.

As strong as this album is musically, its weakness (like so many others) rests with its lyrics. Although Stevens is grasping for something profound with his writing (and my hat is off to him for at least attempting), he fails in overreaching and grabbing too quickly. It seems as if he truly does have something to say, but that it doesn’t come naturally. We have all been in that same spot. Remember the nights when you would have a depression-fueled burst of creativity and write and write? You would capture the waning moon looking down upon you (and only you) in its soft, sweeping gaze and, with your pen, command the innate truths of the universe. Remember then the next morning when you would read over your intense nocturnal prose and thank the stars no one’s eyes graced the page while you slept. In an embarrassed walk of shame, you then toss that pen-scratched paper into the rubbish bin where it belongs. Well, sometimes instead of the trash, that prose ends up on an album.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. The lyrics are not atrocious, but they do leave one feeling a bit cheated, as they detract far too much from such a lush and rich album. However, I am reminded that it is better to look upward and aim for the stars and remain earthbound than to never look at the skies at all. | Andy Powell

This article was originally published in The Times-Standard.

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