For a record titled “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone”, alluding to some sense of a forgettable nature that is easily swept away with a light breeze, Ian Fitzgerald’s latest album is incredibly self aware and anything but forgettable. This is the kind of record that leaves its imprint even after the very first listen. With quips and one liners that you will be cycling around your mind for hours, even days, following the experience of Fitzgerald’s poetry. Where his 2013 release “No Time To Be Tender” focused its arrangements around a sepia tinged, musty paperback scented backdrop with a heavy “roots” styled arrangement patterns that really allowed the words to breathe, “You Won’t” takes some big risks, expanding the sonic repertoire of the songwriter and succeeds tremendously in doing so. The diversity that Fitzgerald presents on this record through his relationships (musically and personally) with Providence based rock outfit Smith&Weeden, MorganEve Swain and Eric Lichter pays off in spades as the variety that reverberates from the heart-wrenching, stripped down whimsy of “All That’s Left” to electric guitar sweeping and soaring harmonies of “Kingdom Come”, is inspired and admirable. The glue holding the collection together is the songwriting we have come to admire and love from the folk singer, but the sonic dynamics of the entire thing is quite a ride.
We recently premiered “Camille” off of YWEKIG here on Red Line Roots and hailed it as “An honest and unapologetically candid approach to storytelling by inserting distinct visuals and devices that paint a scene, a picture in a way, that I find damn near impossible to compare anything to. He is in a league all his own,” with his vocal being “powerful and prominent“, with each word being delivered with “conviction and purpose“. The remaining 9 tracks are no different with two hard driving standouts being “When All Else Fails” and “The First Port”.
“When All Else Fails” delivers a quick driving rhythm, with hints of a bluegrass swing that plows behind the singer-songwriter’s sharpened steel words that cut the bulk of the rest of the arrangement. It’s quick-fire, with a screeching fiddle, a snare drum beat that screams urgency and a slurry of words that deserves another listen or 7 to make sure you don’t miss a single one. Where a lesser songwriter may pen something like “you cry to make it seem like you care, but your caring isn’t even there” Fitzgerald conjurs up lines like “your makeup’s smeared cause you conjured tears, so at least you’d look affected / it’s a cheap disguise, say your hollow eyes , which you haven’t yet perfected“. Its lyrics like this that cut so incredibly deep and quick that I am left awestruck time after time. He is able to so eloquently put into words feelings, emotions and experiences that create vivid imagery and what it is to be human, to love and lose. “The First Port” keeps with the hard driving rhythms and rock n’roll attitude but continues to deliver tender and often devastating lines such as “When consequences hastened by your powers of persuasion meet the promises you made to make me stay / Then you’ll wrap your arms around me ’cause you’re so glad that you found me, and ’cause you can’t think of anything to say”. The way in which each word is presented is like a brick to the face. A circumstance that most all of us have been in before, but laid out so bluntly, but with a hardened grit that is just beyond explanation.
“Monroe” takes things down a bit and is a slow burn that still manages to clock in under 5 minutes. This is where Ian’s storytelling really comes full force. A dusty tale of an old town where a longing love had been forged and forgotten. The narrative is open enough that you can insert yourself into the story line, it could potentially be about Fitzgerald himself, a friend, or a completely fictional character, but regardless you feel vested in the the drama unfolding in the verses as they are played out. I challenge anyone to listen to the third verse and not feel affected, knee weak and close to tears when the line “but if words don’t work the way we need, then neither can they warn / if my silence is a sign of love but hers a sign of scorn“. Utterly perfect.
“All That’s Left” is overwhelming in it’s sparse beauty and how it manages to absolutely annihilate my heart. A fly on the wall at a funeral, the unceremonious occasion of a life ending that should be so much more, but amounts to a gray hued event in history we try to forget, even in the moment. The introduction of the harmonies at the chorus break is exquisite, the emptiness that is left in the mix allows you to swim in the surroundings. I feel like my heart has been ripped from my chest after listening to this song, and that is the best thing can a song can do to you. This is how songs were meant to be made.
And nobody would notice I was missing from the gallery
No one anticipates that I’ll attend
I’ve done away with expectations, and I’ve washed my hands of anyone
Who dares to demand better from their friends.
Ian Fitzgerald is toted as a great songwriter, but what “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone” proves is that he is an absolutely brilliant musician and a bold, wise decision maker when it comes to arrangements and the ability to make concise decisions about songs. The variety that flows through the veins of this collection is uncanny in how it manages to move from full blown rock to folk roots and delicate to forcefully soul-shaking, but still remains a remarkably fluid adventure
This is a record that will stand the test of time for many years to come, it after all does have a timeless quality to it thanks to the engineering of the folks at Dirt Floor studios, with its warmth and analog vibe shining through prominently. I urge you to listen and just close your eyes. Listen once, listen again and keep listening. You will uncover stories, narratives and lines that will haunt you in the best possible way. I seek out music that will do that to me and often find myself coming up short, but this record sends those gentle shockwaves through my entire being when I listen to it. It will impact you in a way that is hard to understand, but the chills can speak for themselves.
While it is undoubtedly one of the finest records we have heard this entire year, it is likely some of the best songwriting we have heard EVER. Fitzgerald continues to prove that his power with the pen is unrivaled and continues to stretch the boundaries of poem and prose, challenging himself and his contemporaries. I don’t make this claim lightly, but he is one of (if not THE) greatest songwriters of recent memory…an artist who is memorable above and beyond what my own words can properly attest.
Ian celebrates the releases of “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone” this Friday, November 18th at the Columbus Theatre and tickets are on sale now at http://columbustheatre.com/eve