REVIEW: Chris Moyse’s “Bitter Ballads & Cynical Prayers” Finds a Way to Crawl to Hope


One of the most reliable musical traditions is the work of the singer-songwriter. They weave stories through their music & distinctive lyrics. David Wilcox, Chris Robison, Marc Cohen, John Wesley Harding, Joe Henry – just to name a few of the lesser-known remarkable names.

Now, Nashville-based Chris Moyes fits comfortably with these articulate writers. His debut 10-track LP Bitter Ballads & Cynical Prayers, (Independent) drops March 20.

Though Chris navigates through the basic territory as past writers Chris smartly approaches these common subjects from a different angle. His imagery is sharp, with brief takes on a person having the blues & finding a way to crawl to hope. While many writers always have to be singing about a real-life experience – Moyes is not afraid to create fictional characters that are “everyman” struggling with their mortality, personal relationships, or finding a corner in the world to be themselves.

Many singers have expertise with melodies & playing their instruments, but their words are juvenile, elementary & filled with clichés. Not Chris. Extra care is taken to not get flowery poetic but to at least maintain creativity that shapes a writer’s personality without sounding like those who came before.

“How Deep Can You Dig?” is a bluesy ballad — a wet cloth of musical notes, wrung out tight until every drop of angst is squeezed from its fibers. At times it sounds as if the tune may have been written 50 years ago on some dust bowl farm by the likes of a man in overalls who resembles Woody Guthrie. Moyse’s young voice should be a drawback & could effectively drain a song of its authenticity. But – it doesn’t. The urgency is there.

“Drinking Again,” continues in a sensitive rootsy tradition with well-thought-out lyrics & genuine significance. Chris sings in the first person but could be relating the tale of another – either way, it works. His pensive acoustic guitar & Jackson Browne style without California’s essence is distinguished.

Chris plays guitar, producer Shawn Byrne (guitars, mandolin), Steven Cooper (electric guitar), Katie Blomarz (bass), John Henry Trinko (B3 & Keys), Adam Haynes (fiddle), Kirsten Maxwell (background vocals) & Erin Nelson (drums).

Playing in a Leonard Cohen-inspired key Chris’ “I’m Not Your Man,” & “Maria,” are not imitations but a respectable hat tip to that European-influenced melancholy songwriting instinct that Cohen mastered. Moyse is quite impressive here. What’s obvious: Chris performs in his own mannered style but has written his songs carefully, with Cohen patience & without infusing them with any bombastic attempt to grab an ear, as much as just pull gently on an earlobe.

Is he reaching for Leonard Cohen’s lofty peak? He certainly could – he has the goods. I know Leonard would’ve loved sharing a pot of tea with this young man.

The 35-minute Nashville, TN recorded CD is available at Chris’ website & CDBaby.

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