Review: Joe Nolan, Goodbye Cinderella
I have to admit I was pretty worried when I got this disc to review: Joe Nolan’s messy tuft of hair and Dylanesque grimace staring up from the cover told me I could be in for another version of the young troubadour using folk songs to convey late adolescent angst. I couldn’t help but think this even though I know and trust his manager, Neil MacGonigill, who has a great ear for excellent emerging acts. My lesson for the week: don’t judge an album by its cover. Or, do, but if you do, don’t assume that Nolan is simply a poor man’s 21st century Dylan.
I’m jumping the gun in writing this review; normally I give myself several listens through so I can give an album the attention it deserves. I’ve only listened to Goodbye Cinderella twice and now I’m on the third rotation and I know I love it. I will rarely so explicitly promote an album here, but today I’m telling you: go.buy.this.album.NOW.
It’s astounding to me that someone who is only 21 can produce songs of this calibre. How can he have gone through enough of life to write lines like “You’re only love me when you’re falling down” (“High as the Moon”) or “I cannot hold the sky/Just to lose a little moonlight…I waited till I left home/Just to miss where I came from” (“Letters to Juliet”)? If you’re tempted to think the line “Remember when we were 18, we felt so invincible” in “One More Secret” sounds like a four year old asking you if you remember when they were a kid at three, note the allusion to heavy subjects of drinking and car crashing at the heart of the song.
It’s not fair to focus on Nolan’s age when he’s obviously got an enormous bottle of talent rocket sauce that he will keep on shaking as his songwriting progresses (yes, I’m aware of who I am paraphrasing there). He moves deftly between classic blues structures (“Paranoia Day 36 Blues”), quiet ballads (“Letters to Juliet”), grungy, dark rock (“Bottom Shelf”), and funky pop (mixed with subtle Albertan politics on “Pray Mama Pray”), making each sound like his home genre.
The way in which Nolan is able to mimic the sound of a Theremin on songs like “My Closest Sheep” only adds to the depth a voice that can be likened to Calexico’s Joey Burns, Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker, or Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam, and yes, moments of Dylan in the more introspective moments, and he’s got a great blues howl and strong lower register in the more aggressive ones.
With a star-studded backing band that includes Colin Linden on guitar, Charlie McCoy on harmonica, Sierra Noble on vocals, and John Whynot on keyboards, the record was bound to sound good. But I really don’t think, in Nolan’s case, that he was saved by a killer band and the partnership of Whynot and Linden in recording and production. The raw material is obviously rich, and the end result doesn’t suffer from overproduction or efforts to distract the listener from anything originally offered by Nolan in songwriting or performance. One complaint I have about the album is the occasional tendency to keep Nolan’s voice low in the mix. It’s a growing trend in the more bombastic recordings of the indie era, but I think its expressive potential would benefit from a more prominent presence.
For those who are curious to see Nolan, he has recently started a standing gig at Lolita’s Lounge/Club Paradiso in Calgary on Sunday nights. I haven’t been there yet, but hear that it’s a promising listening room that is starting to feature some great acts. He’s also going to be in Toronto November 25 for the tribute to Tom Waits at Hugh’s Room.