Dirk Powell is so good. As a composer, performer, and producer, he’s adept at essentially all components of the art of music. It’s helped him build an impressive legacy over the years, and that body of work is only further enhanced by his new LP, When I Wait for You.
On When I Wait for You, Powell offers up 13 songs that manage the tricky feat of being elegant in construct without sounding cold or distant. There’s a warmth and comfort that permeates the album, making for a truly engaging and satisfying listening experience.
Powell brings a diverse sonic palette to the whole affair, seamlessly pulling together sounds and instruments from the American South, Ireland, and Scotland. “The Silk Merchant’s Daughter” is a perfect representation of this sonic blend, its combination of Celtic and American folk coming together to create something that’s both fresh and familiar.
While Powell mixes, matches, and alters different traditional musical themes to create something new, he takes the opportunity to bend dated lyrical traditions to expand the possibilities of a roots music song. One of the oldest tropes in folk and country is that of violence against women. Powell takes that on in “I Ain’t Playing Pretty Polly,” with the help of friend and longtime collaborator Rhiannon Giddens. He acknowledges having grown up with those songs, but urges that misogynist fare be left in the past, singing:
I ain’t playing Pretty Polly or Rosalie McFall
I ain’t playing Knoxville Girl, no, none of them at all
No more tales of women killed by drunken violent men
They don’t deserve their stories told, I won’t raise my voice again
I ain’t playing Pretty Polly anymore.
Instead of women being objects and victims, the women in Powell’s songs are the ones with the power and are fully realized humans, active participants in the stories being told. In the ebulliently rockin’ “Jack of Hearts,” Powell is the object, a card waiting to be picked up by his potential paramour. And on the delightful “The Little Things,” Powell shares the spotlight with the vocals and fiddle playing of Sara Watkins, in the process telling a story of a romantic (and musical) relationship from a position of equal footing.
When I Wait for You concludes with “One Note,” the type of barroom piano ballad love song you’d hear on an early Tom Waits album. The track provides an enchanting close to a record full of enchanting performances and songcraft.