Summer at Shatter Creek: All the Answers (Badman Recording Co.)

This is an intensely melancholy, yet eminently listenable recording.

Craig Gurwich, the one-man band behind Summer at Shatter Creek, was probably the quintessential lonely kid with few viable career options besides music. Listening to All the Answers, his sophomore release, you’re pulled into Gurwich’s private world—you want to know about his hopes, fears, and disappointments and reassure the guy that somehow it’ll all work out. This is an intensely melancholy, yet eminently listenable recording.

“I don’t think I’m a pessmist always/Just been away from some nice thoughts for a while” sing Gurwich in one of many understated lyrical passages. Two of the distinguishing characteristics of this nine-song disc are, in fact, the emotionally compelling lyrical clarity (with Gurwich’s plaintive voice recalling both Mark Kozelek and Jeff Buckley) and Gurwich’s knack for building a satisfying emotional crescendo into each tune through his canny arrangements and instinctive musical timing. “Worlds Away” is a great example. Gurwich sings an a cappella passage at one point here: “You used to be so witty and so sharp/With lots of energy and tons of heart/I think about how you were way back then/A lot has changed.” When the instruments burst into the mix, the effect is transfixing: every bit of emotion Gurwich heralded washes over the listener as his self-harmonizing rises and falls in waves.

It happens again in “Something to Calm Me,” one of the most haunting and Kozelek-ian tracks. The slow (but not lethargic) tempo and simple piano chords allow Gurwich to sing in a casual yet lovely tone that brings every emotional nuance to the forefront. And he delivers: “I like to travel lightly/Leave the weight behind/I like to go where no one knows me/To adapt to what I find.” The drumming stops suddenly, and you hear the echoes of Gurwich’s sad voice, adorned only by the soft background piano. It’s truly gripping.

There’s a purity and unpretentiousness to these compositions that one rarely experiences with higher-profile artists. On “You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Loved,” Gurwich tells us essentially just that, while his acoustic guitar, heartfelt vocals, and a lonesome whistle-like synthesizer unleash a torrent of melancholic beauty. Both “Rebecca” and “Fall Down Drunk” are tunes likely aimed at specific figures in Gurwich’s life; the latter shows remarkable lyrical restraint considering its alcoholic theme, and the former is another fine example of the unique textured blend of mood and melody that Gurwich has specialized in since his SASC debut two years back.

This music is achingly sad but never morose, and not every introspective singer/songwriter can pull that off. It’s the kind of sound that would make your ears perk up if you heard it in some little café or coffeehouse out of town, while you sat pondering your own existential struggles or recent heartbreak. You’d feel like this singer knew just what you were going through. “It’s no good to carry it around/You’ve got to go and let it out/And you can’t hide from all your friends/Without help, it won’t end,” Gurwich sings on “Your Ever Changing Moods.” No, Gurwich may not have All the Answers. But he sure provides enough of the musical soundtrack for the questions to warrant your full attention. | Kevin Renick

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