I haven’t quite cracked the elusive unifying theory of why I like or dislike a certain song, but what I’ve sussed out so far is that the music I love the best is the music that makes me feel something. Be it happy or sad. I can only guess, having spoken to none of my musical icons on the subject, that such music must have been made by people who were genuinely feeling it.
After the first listen to “Ash Wednesday”, the moving debut album by Elvis Perkins, you get the impression that this man feels an awful lot of the melancholy that the age in which we live in can inspire. It might just be that the first listen to this album coincided with me turning 30 and the hangover that it brings, but it really struck a chord.
His take on alt.folk draws from other troubled troubadours both past and present. With a nod in the direction of Willy Mason, a crib sheet of cryptic Dylan poems and the warmth and feeling of Ray Lamontagne, Perkins has done his homework, but nicely woven the sources together rather than simply plagiarising the lot.
The album opens with the ace While You Were Sleeping which starts off with just his laidback vocal over his acoustic and is subtly built up to fill your speakers with some fine full blooded soul searching by voice and band alike. Those heights are briefly reached again on the excellent Moon Woman II, but the rest of the album is a more sombre and introspective affair.
Seeing him play live, as Muxloe and I did last week (supporting the aforementioned Willy Mason), he injected more joy in the performance than is present on the album. His backing band throw themselves into some of the songs with the gusto of an old rag time funeral marching band, but not losing the emotion of the songs.
After already being convinced of the album and its integrity, I learned that he lost his father (actor Anthony Perkins) to AIDS in the early nineties and that his mother was killed on board one of the planes on September 11th 2001. It suddenly became obvious that the feeling of end of the world hopelessness captured on this album is undoubtedly genuine.