A.C. Newman | Shut Down the Streets (Matador)

ole-992 a.c._newman_shut_down_the_streets-51703_200x200The greatness of music comes from the quality of songwriting and how it affects you.

 

Could someone take this album away from me please?! No. Seriously! (Trust me. You’ll think it, too.)

A.C. Newman once again transcends us mind, body, and soul into a realm where, no matter what mood you are in, it is sure to be elevated as each moment endures. Most of the time you have absolutely no idea what he is singing about, but somehow…you just relate. To me, that is what great songwriting is all about: It can mean anything to anyone at any particular time. Inspired by the death of his mother and the birth of his son, this album bares it all.

Allen Carl Newman, Canadian songwriter and lead singer of the New Pornographers, brought us two previous solo albums, The Slow Wonder (2004) and Get Guilty (2009). As a NP fan, I found the only thing missing from these two albums to me was some backup vocals by a Miss Neko Case. Well, guess what? Not only does Case (who also provides lead vocals for NP) appear, but she does backing vocals on most of the album. (Does this mean we might see her on Newman’s upcoming tour? Because I certainly would not mind one bit.) Don’t get me wrong: Newman has always had a stellar group of folks on board with everything he has done, but in my extremely biased opinion, Neko’s harmonies are the icing on the cake for some of the greatest songs ever written.

So, let me take you on a journey of this amazing piece of art…

You immediately hear enchanting melodies that not only grab you by the soul, but really keep your attention. The first track, “Not Talking,” sets the tone with said trippy intro, followed by sound that feels as familiar as home. The album sort of hops around between upbeat tunes and more of the mellow kind, in a very genius way. Newman seems to have a knack for making the more laidback songs some of the best tunes on the album, so he sort of toys with you in a way. He pulls you into this lucid state where you kind of get lost, and then immediately hits you with something upbeat or so unique that it really catches you off guard. This keeps your attention perfectly throughout the entire album.

In fact, as you may have noticed above, it is quite easy to listen to this album over and over again. My favorite track, “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns,” is one of the upbeat kind that has a marxophone sound (you know that weird old instrument The Doors used in their cover of “Alabama Song”?) and a very addictive hook. There are a number of tunes on this album that you will find you can’t get out of your head. Then you have to listen to them, and then they get stuck in your head again. It’s a vicious cycle. I especially love the bluegrass feel of “Troubador.” Here, Newman incorporates his classic sound and the harmonies are just incredible. I love how, no matter what direction this gentleman decides to go with his songwriting, it’s always him…and there is no mistaking it. His songwriting has a certain way of standing out like that.

The final—and titular—track was the first song written for this album, one he began on the day of his mother’s funeral. “They should’ve shut down all the streets” becomes more and more emotional every time you hear him sing it. Just fair warning: It is extremely direct and to the point (for once), and the point is raw, pure, true grief. My condolences to you, good sir, and thank you so very much for yet another album I can add my list of favorites.

I highly recommend this album for anyone who likes music, period. Someone once taught me that great music isn’t about how great a singer is, how great of a guitar player they are, or even what style it is. The greatness of music comes from the quality of songwriting and how it affects you. This is some quality stuff. As for how it affects you, there is only one way to find out… A+ | Justin Thompson

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