Hayden | In Field & Town (Fat Possum)

cd_hayden.jpgThe album’s most accessible song, "More Than Alive" left me speechless, which is ironic because there can’t be enough said about this strangely epic tune.




The Canadian singer/songwriter Paul Hayden Desser has just released his latest effort In Field & Town. With it, he expands his wavering narratives with a more upbeat approach and more eclectic sound. Since its release north of the border earlier this month, the Canadian press has hailed it as the album of his career, and they may be right. If his performance with Feist a few weeks ago at The Pageant didn’t win you over, this record surely will. In Field & Town is strikingly accessible, witty, musically strong and sadly nostalgic and fun-loving at the same time.

For this album, the curly-haired Do-It-Yourself-er learned some new instruments, recorded and produced the entire album in his home studio in Ontario. He plays almost everything on the album, picking up drums, harmonica, toy pianos and other diverse instruments. In addition, his contributors add to the diversity with trumpets, pedal-steel guitars and vibraphones.

On In Field & Town, Hayden crafts his tunes with equal parts heartbreaking sincerity and charismatic charm. Much of the album relies on love-lost themes of heartbreak, but the album’s not without humor. On the lighthearted "Lonely Security Guard," Hayden jokingly croons about a rent-a-badge whose uses a hidden origami talent to preserve the safety of his post. At the end of the song, the shoplifting narrator’s illegal plans are foiled by a swift stab from the guard’s paper sword. In the following song, Hayden gets back to his bread and butter with the tender piano ballad "The Hardest Part." In it he sings, "The hardest part of life is love that goes away/ When one is left there wandering how to make it stay." The gentle piano melody beautifully compliments his trademark gravelly sweet voice.

The album’s most accessible song, "More Than Alive" left me speechless, which is ironic because there can’t be enough said about this strangely epic tune. It’s got it all, a catchy melody, intense lyrics, dynamic shifts, trumpet solo…all of Hayden’s pieces fall together. If you want proof of that Hayden has reached new heights with this record, look no further.

It’s hard to say if the comparisons to Neil Young or Nick Drake (which loom over practically every folk singer) are a compliment or a curse, but there are many to be made on In Field & Town. Hayden’s electric guitar solos hearken back to After the Gold Rush-era Young, while the tender moments where Hayden spills his guts also tread familiar ground. But, in many ways Hayden transcends these comparisons on In Field & Town. By firmly establishing his own voice, charisma and point-of-view, he carves his own niche apart from other folk-rock icons, but still pulls familiar elements into the fray at his will. In "Barely Friends," Dale Murray accompanies Hayden with a pedal-steel, hinting at Young-esque folk tunes. Even more impressive, Hayden’s harmonica solo near the end proudly sings over Murray’s twang-filled colorings.

In Field & Town could hopefully mark Hayden’s coming of age. As remarkable, enjoyable and sincere as this album is, it might just be the one to garner him the recognition he’s on the verge of receiving. With this record, Hayden continues to grow more complex and relevant. Has folk-rock found its new leading man? A+ | Glen Elkins

RIYL: Neil Young, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Nick Drake

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