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Dan Melchior - This is Not the Medway Sound

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Artist: Dan Melchior

Album: This is Not the Medway Sound

Label: SmartGuy

Review date: Jun. 3, 2003

Monster of the Medway

Physical and geographic displacement is a common theme in music. The process of relocating from one city to another allows for reflection that often finds it way into song. Musicians have, to a certain degree, retained the role of troubadour after all, imparting to their audiences stories and anecdotes from places most of will never get to, sharing observations most of us will never get to make.

Dan Melchior seems to relish the job of bard. His style is simplistic but powerful, and his music lacks pretense and would not stand out too much on a honky-tonk juke box. On his latest LP, This is Not the Medway Sound, the Englishman Melchior attempts to document the cathartic aspects of his move to New York City. Joined by Bruno Meyrick-Jones but absent the Broke Revue with which he usually tours, Melchior plunges head on into what it means to be a stranger abroad. It is unfair to judge a book by its cover (although on the track “I’m Trying” Melchior himself points out that “the pictures on the cover sell the book), but the picture of Melchior on the album’s cover, goateed and looking slightly bemused in front of the Lincoln Memorial, seems to double as a snarky postcard.

On the album’s title track, we learn that Melchior has strayed from the Medway sound. Medway is Melchior’s hometown in England, situated on a delta at the end of the eponymous river. Despite his soulful, blues and folk-influenced sound, Melchior holds no pretense of being tied to his hometown identity like many of the past musicians he emulates. As he explains on “This is Not the Medway Sound,” “I do not represent / I am an international artist man / I record in major cities.” Whether this is a jab at globalization or an acceptance of the fact that an Englishman can appropriate a musical style once associated with backwater hamlets of the American South, I am not sure. Somewhat ironically and perhaps unknowingly, Melchior also reveals that a change of scenery is not always enough to ameliorate a bleak perspective on the universal flaws of humanity. New town, same old problems.

On “Animals” and “Interminable Season” Melchior is comfortable damning the human race or at least its intentions. On the former track, humanity is compared to animals in our scrambles up the food chain. On the latter, lying and our tendency to deceive is the theme. “Interminable Season” at least has an entertaining, carnivalesque keyboard accompaniment, which cleverly hides the gloom of the lyrics. “Stay Away from My Door” benefits from a bass line that fades in and out all the way to the end of the track, where it is the last thing the listener hear; a George Thorogood song without the whiskey bombast.

The two best tracks on the record stand out for very different reasons. “Either Side” impresses with its incredibly clever lyrics, highlighted by the verse “living in New York City your fingernails get gritty / your paycheck is itty bitty / but the Empire State is so pretty.” While flippant and light-hearted, Melchior’s description hits the spot and pulls it off while rhyming. “South Bank Song” takes us across the Atlantic to London and is a more traditional blues song, down to the clichéd line about the “dirty river rolling forth and back.” Mechior’s primal reaction to his surroundings seems more apt to the rural American South, and we have to remind ourselves he is talking about the Thames.

Recorded on a four track presumably in Melchior’s New York apartment, This is Not the Medway Sound has an overall effect not too dissimilar from John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Melchior’s voice is abrasive and at times nasal and in the same way that the Mountain Goats demand the listener’s attention through the raw exertion of Darnielle’s emotional delivery, at times This is Not the Medway Sound grips because you wonder what has caused Melchior such anguish. Nevertheless, Melchior cannot sustain the idiosyncratic brilliance that makes Darnielle a genius. While This is Not the Medway Sound is enjoyable, it does not match the narrative wonderment of the Mountain Goats, where each song is a window into a remarkable and often bizarre moment. This is Not the Medway Sound becomes repetitive by the end; a man complaining about the new world around him.

By Andy Urban

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