Chris Canterbury – Quaalude Lullabies
I like the vintage jazz record cover artwork because for some reason it suggests some good music. And it does. Chris Canterbury has a savoring warm vocal right out of the gate. “The Devil, the Dealer & the Dark Side,” is a heavy topic & a compelling song title. The words that follow through the title are actually “the dark side of me” a line in the song that’s quite gripping.
I respect that Canterbury chooses his words carefully & weaves a tight story, like a craftsman — a blacksmith at an anvil & bellows, a glass blower. Then to lyrics like “…the mirror doesn’t like what it sees.” Great lyric because it’s simple, yet intriguing. This is a real country deep dive. I don’t hear much in the way of superlative lyrics in country music today, not like this. The clever use of words is natural for Chris – “The truth doesn’t care if you choose it, a heart only breaks when you use it.” Simple country idea but not paint by numbers, this is oil paint.
Canterbury sounds like a natural for this kind of storytelling. Simple scenes, descriptions, & melancholy — ostensibly at the heart of these songs but it’s Chris’ voice that draws you in. He does it again on “Fall Apart,” which is just a simple acoustic tune with little fanfare but loaded with lines like “hold me close so I won’t fall apart.” Excellent.
There are only 9-cuts on this beautiful album, his first self-produced in 5 years — Quaalude Lullabies (Drops Sept 23–Rancho Deluxe Records) that includes the rousing cover of Will Kimbrough’s “Yellow Mama,” which has more lift, is upbeat & is just a feel-good composition. The addition of the accordion is a nice touch in a country song. The childlike vocal that accompanies Chris is charming. But the tale here is about the last few moments before an Alabama electric chair does its job.
Chris Canterbury is a Louisiana native with just enough Southern accent to make his songs authentic. He says he likes to write songs that sound like a Saturday morning kitchen conversation. I think he succeeded. This song too is loaded with creative lines. The entire production of this LP has warm down-home comfortable melodies. He has John Prine value, Townes van Zandt’s achingly beautiful ballad style (“Kitchen Table Poet”) & Guy Clark quality. Chris avoids the country song cliches & seldom needs the pickup truck, cowboy hat, beer for his horses & toilet humor.
So, despite some darker subjects Canterbury negotiates the musical miles with expertise. “Heartache for Hire,” is as clever as the old country title “The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me,” which I thought as a kid was ingenious at the time. Play on words that only good country artists mastered.
Look forward to more from Chris – he’s not like all the rest & that’s a good thing. Country music needs to evolve but maybe not so much musically but in the tales, it tells.
Photo courtesy of Chris’ media kit. CD @ https://www.chriscanterburymusic.com/