On “Archive + Spiral,” Thomas Comerford sounds like one of those friends you go to when you’re feeling down, because he’s always feeling worse.
His voice sounds somewhat wretched, and he projects the weathered soul of a veteran singer-songwriter who never quite made it, a performer with a tragic life that could be told in a biopic starring Jeff Bridges or Robert Duvall.
Except, that’s not who Comerford is at all.
Instead, he’s a performance artist, an indie filmmaker, a faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the frontman of the band Kaspar Hauser, which is tellingly named after a legendary, mysterious German youth from the early 1800s. Song titles on “Archive + Spiral” are likewise revealing: One is named for the late French filmmaker Robert Bresson, another for the late American artist/filmmaker Joseph Cornell.
So the more you know about Comerford, the more his mystique on “Archive + Spiral” is tarnished.
However, accept Comerford at face value, without the extraneous context, and you might be convinced that his homespun, D.I.Y.-feeling release is a rare gem from an obscure artist. He’s charming, albeit grim, singing “Forget what your mama said, I’m not taking medicine” on “Dear Stephen Hauser,” “Brother’s in the hospital, and he won’t get well” on “Joseph Cornell” and, “Beauty fades, so does love” on “Drinkingsong.” His voice is twangy, floating somewhere between Willie Nelson and Jeff Tweedy.
He’s also an acoustic guitarist, though his supporting band takes “Archive + Spiral” out of the simple folk realm and into a more Americana/rock/blues direction with electric guitar, mandolin, accordion and keyboards. Plus Comerford throws in a little harmonica on his cover of the Lou Reed/John Cale-penned “Sunday Morning.” The arrangements are sound, if not remarkable, though they’re prone to meander.
It all works if you’re in a mood for gritty music ... and you don’t overanalyze the source.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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