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Bill Fox - One Thought Revealed

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Artist: Bill Fox

Album: One Thought Revealed

Label: Jar Note

Review date: Apr. 18, 2012

As the frontman and primary songwriter for ‘80s indie punks The Mice, Bill Fox displayed a near prodigy-like talent for bringing indelible melodies and clever lyrics to bear on rust-belt power pop. After the band’s demise (prompted in part by their leader’s departure), Fox would embark on a brief but quietly brilliant solo venture, which produced two albums, 1996’s Shelter from the Smoke (reissued in double-LP deluxe form by Scat in 2009) and 1998’s Transit Byzantium. The albums consisted of lo-fi acoustic pop and forlorn folk, and found Fox’s writing hitting new levels of craft and intimacy. Lyrically, Fox played the roll of the melancholy indie troubadour, tackling loneliness, longing, and loss with wry Dylanesque incisiveness on the one hand and vulnerable, aching poignancy on the other. Running through it all was a subtle often humorous commentary on the anxieties and pitfalls of forging a career at the tail end of the ’90s indie boom.

It would appear that this anxiety caught up with Fox, as shortly after the release of Byzantium, he quit making music professionally and vanished back into his hometown of Cleveland. His solo work was possessed of an intimacy and honesty that helped foster a small but loyal cult following, yet his subsequent refusal to comment on or seemingly even acknowledge his gift and the importance of it to his fans cloaked Fox in a shroud of mystery. A 2007 article by Joe Hagan in literary magazine The Believer only served to amplify this Salinger-like riddle, portraying the singer-songwriter as a bitter, reclusive, and at times unstable right-winger. Adding to that, the article’s very existence was contingent on Fox’s insistence that it never be made available on-line.

However, Fox’s silence ended just as abruptly as it began, in early 2012, with the release of One Thought Revealed via the Jar Note label. And while there’s reason to be skeptical of any artist returning from an extended, seemingly inexplicable hiatus — especially one with an recondite coulda-been-a-contender back story such as this one — this relatively brief offering does nothing to dispel the argument put forth by many that Bill Fox is one of the underground’s most underrated musicians.

The bulk of the album follows the simple folk-pop blueprint of Smoke and Byzantium; strummed acoustic guitar and simple arpeggios form the bulk of the musical structure here. But there are clear indicators that Fox has been learning his way around the new technological possibilities available for a DIY singer-songwriter. "Moonlight Staggers on a Lonesome Toe" and "Withering Soul" have a celestial quality that, while no means slick, represents a dramatic step forward in terms of production. Even "Round the World," which most calls to mind Fox’s earlier solo endeavors, is enhanced with shimmering piano and warm synth textures. And this isn’t merely a man tinkering with Pro Tools; rather these sonic reinforcements coincide with Fox’s lyrical motifs, which though revealing a certain contentment that could be the product of age, are as haunting as ever.

At the end of the day, despite all the accolades thrown his way, Fox remains an obscure figure, and it’s obvious that, for whatever reason (and let’s not speculate) that’s the way he wants it. For those fortunate enough to know his work, the arrival of something new is cause for celebration. Fox might have made this album completely on his own terms and at his own pace, but One Thought Revealed is still for his fans.

By Nate Knaebel

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