The pandemic and its 10 months (and counting) of isolation have allowed us to do some profound navel-gazing. And even as most of us don’t have an ability to write about what we found in the deep-down, a few good folks have managed to put that isolation into song. Brooklyn-based songwriter Sam Phelps’ new EP, Talking to a Friend, reminds us what we’ve missed most over the past year.
Phelps’ previous EP, last year’s Here and There, had a guitar/voice, singer-songwriter sound. Talking to a Friend has the Kentucky native backed by a small country band, including a good amount of steel guitar. The title track deals with the pleasures and distractions we’ve been without, and how we’re trying to make substitutions – “It’s no time for vacation, no/Our little conversations/They’re the only thing that keeps me hangin’ on.” Conversations with a trusted friend, in the absence of most of our other social rituals, are more important than they’ve ever been
Another dubious pastime we’ve had plenty of opportunity for over the past year is castigating ourselves over the bad decisions we’ve made. “Choices” is Phelps’ look back at those “what was I thinking” moments. Starting with a lonely acoustic guitar line before the band kicks in, the singer portrays a man not at his best – “She got tired of tryin’ hard for me.” At the end of a gorgeous steel solo, Phelps sings, “I don’t know why she chose me,” repeating the question with no answer (as there seldom is one).
The final tune on the EP, “I’m Weak,” is an amiable-enough country jaunt about a stressed-out man with a back-up plan – “I said there’s a bottle up under my bed/And I’m not talkin’ about booze.” Women and work build up the singer’s stress, which ends up in a ripping guitar solo before abruptly dropping to nothing. Hopefully, we’ll see the protagonist and Phelps himself on the other side of the pandemic – both have more stories to tell.
Talking to a Friend was produced by Sean Walsh and mastered by Charlie Rauh. Additional musicians on the album include Ray Clark and Brian Geltner.
Talking to a Friend will be available via all platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify, beginning Thursday, January 28.
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