Welcome to the meandering musical insights of Aaron Joy (me!), formerly known as the Roman Midnight Music Blog. Here you'll find nearly 750 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie, good & bad, U.S. & foreign. A new review every Monday.

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June 3, 2021

David J. Shaffer ~ Americana Divide (album review) ... Maine's own Bruce Springsteen meets Leonard Cohen!



Style: Americana, folk, blues rock
Label: self-released
Year: 2021
Home: Maine

Members: Dave Shaffer ~ vocals/acoustic guitar
Nat Bailey ~ guitars 
Rick Coakley ~ bass/b. vocals
Paul J. Shaffer ~ drums
Mckenzie Burke ~ b. vocals

Additional: Jonah D. Shaffer ~ guitar solo
Andy Happel ~ strings
Flash Allen ~ keyboards
Gavin McCoy, Atticus McCoy ~ b. vocals
Cody Sherman ~ drums

If I could do anything in music, I would be a music producer. I would love to help musicians craft their albums under some grand artistic vision that turns a collection of songs into a journey. I've helped a few friends re-work their stuff, with success I'll brag, yet I've never had the chance to fully explore my skills start to finish. I've only dreamed of what I might create if given the opportunity, based on all the albums I've loved in my life. Well, I might be letting the dream go. As I listen to Americana Divide, the new album by Maine singer-songwriter-guitarist David J. Shaffer ... having heard some modest demos of a few of the tracks & his 2012 album Unfinished Business, which I reviewed here ... I have now heard exactly what I dreamed an album would sound like if I produced it. My dream can be let go as its now been unleashed to the world's ears. This dream album would have lyrics that are more than just the typical rock'n'roll empty cliches of love. They would be little paintings of faces & places, potentially bringing to mind the Americana visuals of Bruce Springsteen with a touch of Leonard Cohen's self-revealing emotions, mixed with the frustrations of Nick Cave. The guitars would compliment & dance with the lyrics, instead of dominating the songs to turn everything into a guitar romp. Every song would have its own mood expressed through both the music & the lyrics. For the vocals, they would be thick with emotion, as the feeling of the words is just as important as the notes hit. The singer would sound inspired by the music, & wanting to rise to the same level, not to be lost under it or not giving any energy back. Instruments & sounds would float in like a rainbow appearing & soon disappearing. This detailed description is a tall order, but I believe Americana Divide is a folk-rock/Americana album that checks all the boxes. If Dave never makes another album he can know, at least for my ears, he has crafted what I call his masterpiece, let alone an album I would up against any famous musician. I know this must seem overly complimentary, but anyone who reads this blog knows I don't casually give praise, criticize regularly & confess when something leaves me befuddled. Actually, this is so good that on first listen I started to cry on the third track. I've only cried at New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas, Band of Horses, Elvis Presley, & Reba McEntire, & I'm not even a fan of two of those. I think some of the tears come from having heard Dave's earlier recordings. I was immediately shocked by how far he's taken his music with this album. Unfinished Business was just vocals & strummed chords. Americana Divide has a full band that wonderfully ups the emotional impact of the songs without turning Dave's music into something unrecognizable. The essence is intact, but the costume change is unexpectedly sexy. He found the perfect approach to accentuating what was already there in his songs. "Home Soon", the infamous teary-eyed third track, has a simple guitar with a violin laced throughout that just soars higher & higher. The emotion of the lyrics is expressed through the violin. I challenge you not cry when listening. Whereas Unfinished Business had a unified feel of heartbreak, now each song is like its own interpretation of heartbreak & loss via an array of musical approaches. It all flows together, but you never know what will be next. For example, "Ghost Towns" has Dave's son doing his only guitar solo on the album. I was reminded of the feel of the Cars, yet it fit perfectly. Ironically, I told this to Dave afterwards & he said his son was a huge fan, so home run for young Jonah. Yet, that being said, the band isn't all responsible for all the success here. Dave is a master songwriter who has laid a great foundation. "Halfway," one of four songs found on Unfinished Business, is a personal favorite due to the lyrics. "You don't fall in love completely / you go halfway there ... Its better to love a little / than not at all. / Its hard to see what's below us / before we fall." I've always loved the visual aspect of his writing that lends itself to daydreaming of your own life. "Crazy On Our Minds", with a funky bass, has the wonderful rhyme: "Somehow I'd forgotten / that at times it will rain, / but the torrent of today / is so hard & steady / I can't feel through the pain." I've so been there. Dave reminds me of a young Springsteen, crafting songs of people of the Americana landscape we feel we know or maybe are us. Yet, he never gets preachy or overly maudlin. He just lays out his stories like laying open a photo album. As he sings in the title track: "Knickknacks, pictures & signs / the little things the two of us acquired over time. ... Places we stopped by as we traveled the roads across this land" is the photo album, followed by "Are the children in school? / If so, are they taught the golden rule? / What will be left for them now? / Giving everything away they may want to save, / but its okay/ you'll be long gone it won't matter anyway. / Everything is for sale / to pay for all our indiscretions." This title track gives the feeling that this might be a political album, but really I see it as an album asking us what we do with our lives, how we see the past, how we see tomorrow. It needs to be also mentioned that these scenes of life are sung by Dave in a way I didn't hear on the earlier recordings. The music has obviously inspired him. I enjoyed how he sang with strong emotions, held the notes long & changed keys. I felt like I was in an intimate conversation with him. Speaking of intimate moments, "Pillow Talk" is my choice for the single. In its original form it felt like a lullaby that was easily skipped over, but now it features organ & piano & builds up emotionally in a must hear way. I think it also has Dave's best vocals ever. This is an album full of surprises, like this one, yet everything works together. It must be noted that Dave has become known for two comedic songs, though as I pointed out in my earlier review, they are not representative of his repertoire. He's included the earlier recordings of these two as bonuses tracks. "The Facebook Song" is a country-flavored criticism of our favorite social media platform, & "Beans At Your Bar-B-Que" features an "unpredictable" woman with a unique taste in food, turning the thought of laughing at the cook from good advice to a dire warning. I should confess Dave & I know each other. I haven't seen him perform, but with his girlfriend - who did the cover art - he saw my only gig playing bass with the alt-country group Willy Martin & The Woods. Months later he sat in my living room after a personal trauma where gave me some demos of just guitar, vocals, percussion. I remember when he announced the creation of Americana Divide in 2019. Yet, he gave me a copy of this album asking for an honest review. Some might accuse me of being a good friend & praising it too much. For the skeptics, I'll say my criticism is that at times I felt the music eclipsed the lyrics. On Unfinished Business there was not much to focus on other than the words. Here I found I sometimes got lost in the music & missed some great lines I caught on later spins. This might be excusable on songs I've heard, but of the new songs it happened. There likely might not be any way around this, though. Also, for the critics, when I wrote earlier that I cried. That was no lie. Friend or not, this is a folk-rock-blues-Americana masterpiece. That's my honest review. I've included the texts to my girlfriend as proof.


13 comments:

  1. Wow.... Dave Shaffer's album is a great collection original songs finally heading in the right and a new direction. Songs with a touch of "rock", "folk", some refrains and you can actually remember the melody when the song has finished playing... Wow
    When I grew up in the 50's, the songs had great "melodies", "refrains", and "bridges" and you could remember the melodies when the song was finished on the radio. I had to learn and read, on my guitar, all chords in all keys and no capo. As a casual listener in the popular music scene today, it's about time for change. The basic so called "top 40" popular music today is terrible. Continuous repeating melodies that you can't remember when the song is over, songs with "2 1/2" chords going on and on and on, awful "oohs and awws". I can't stand it. The young people of today are forced to believe this is the real music scene. Yuk. Dave Shaffer's album is a great step out of the today's music swamp. To understand the music scene for the past 60 years, you have to read the report... "The tragic Decline of Music literacy (and Quality) by Jon Henschen.... Look up Jon Henschen on the web....

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  2. Gerry Ann SweeneyJuly 2, 2021 at 2:40 PM

    This is a great cd. It has real life songs and some that will make you chuckle. I agree with the above comment that you remember the choruses and you can also understand the words. I recommend this cd.

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  3. I’ve been enjoying Dave’s original songs for many years now. I had Unfinished Business and loved every song he laid down. But now, oh now, Dave has many fine musicians and singers accompanying him to record his songs very professionally on this CD!! From the drums, to lead picking, to the elegant strings, each instrument draws from the emotion of the lyrics and compliments perfectly!! I’ve got several the tracks from this CD locked into my head and they play over and over in my mind. And I enjoy them every time!! And so will YOU!!

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  4. Diana July 3, 2021
    I love Dave's CD. I have it in my number one CD slot in my car and listen to it often. Great lyrics, tunes, singers and musicians makes this a very professional sounding CD. All the songs are very good; but I do have my favorites; "The Facebook Song" and "Beans At Your Barbecue". You, too will love this CD!

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    Replies
    1. Yup, yup, yup! There's a video for Beans, too! (Forthcoming when I write this in early July 2021)

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  5. I finally bought a brand new CD player Blu-ray player so I could listen to Dave’s new album. “Seconds turn to minutes, into hours, into days and they all slip away.”
    Damn, this CD. This CD. Dave is first and foremost a great storyteller. Every song is a world of it’s own.Plaintive, finding joy in the little things, words lapping on notes like lake water on a pontoon, searching, discovering and sharing. Pull in off of my friend Dave. At times I thought of John Prine, and you are right both Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen.There really is a special joy that you find when you discover a new favorite singer songwriter. Dave’s voice, his lyrics, the talented musicians and the heart in the middle of it all… so good. So very, very good.

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    Replies
    1. It’s supposed to say… I’m in awe of Dave… not pull in off my friend Dave… lol

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    2. Hadn't thought of John Prine. In my original draft I also named dropped Jim Croce, but more for the music. The opener "The Calling" reminded me of Jim & Maury's guitar play.

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  6. I agree on the Springsteen comparison! The heart and soul, the richness of voice, the snippets of American life. This album is wonderful, and I can't stop listening to it! It is a really great album, and driving in the car I find myself listening over and over again.

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