Summer At Shatter Creek: Summer At Shatter Creek (Absolutely Kosher)

You just don’t hear that kind of plain honesty on too many recordings.

Summer at Shatter Creek sounds like the title of an artsy independent film, maybe set in a small Appalachian town where young love is derailed by  unspeakably sad events. Instead, this evocative title is the name of a low-key, one-man-band recording project helmed by former Kalamazoo native Craig Gurwich. Any musician who tries to sing and play everything on his album is taking a big risk; the possibilities for undisciplined self-indulgence are all too obvious. Gurwich has, therefore, worked a minor miracle by recording this sweet, lovely, inward-looking series of meditations on life, love, and the passage of time, all distinguished by his high, fragile, Jeff Buckley–tinged voice.

The sound is simultaneously lo-fi and lush; the recording has the aesthetic of a late ’60s Jefferson Airplane sort of emotive psychedelia. The wistful vocals and echoey production of “The Essence of Time” and “The Drive” reminded me of something I couldn’t quite place, as Gurwich’s songs made me feel “lost in time.” “My Neighbor’s Having a Seizure” is the closest thing here to a real pop song; it’s not too dissimilar from latter-day Wilco, and the way Gurwich reaches for the high notes amid a thick swirl of loopy background noise is quite charming.

Mostly he’s playing acoustic guitar on these tunes, and sparsely so. “I need a vacation/Some relaxin’ time/Cause I don’t wanna be angry and stressed all the time,” Gurwich sings plaintively on “I Need a Vacation,” with simple piano chords plunking along with his voice. I positively grinned at the next few lines: “Traffic, it kills me/When I drive I’m always on edge/I feel like everyone’s out to cut me off/To get one car ahead.” You just don’t hear that kind of plain honesty on too many recordings. Gurwich doesn’t need gimmicks to make his music compelling; he’s just playing what he wants to play, saying what he wants to say, and you just know he’s not too worried about who likes his music and who doesn’t. He did all this himself, remember, and you don’t spend that much time creating in isolation like that if your goal is to be Mr. Popular.

Old-fashioned self-expression is Gurwich’s goal, and he’s achieved that while reminding us what a miraculous little thing it can be to simply render a sad little tune over a few decently played instruments. “Driving Through Texas” is evocative in a very disarming way; it leaves more and more haunting little impressions as it goes. And “Thief” conjures the spirit of Nick Drake, save for Gurwich’s higher, rootsier vocal style. Summer at Shatter Creek doesn’t make a big statement, and it’s the kind of recording that will probably get overlooked except by those who read the indie music press. But it’s testament to the power of one person, one vision, and one inexpensively produced recording. The whole of this disc definitely adds up to more than the Summer of its parts.

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