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Music Review: Bruce Piephoff – Still Looking Up At the Stars

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Bruce Piephoff - Still Looking Up At the StarsFrom North Carolina, Bruce Piephoff is a bard whose music will turn a frown into a smile. The dreamer, poet, author, and rambling man has college degrees in English and creative writing. His love of literature and calling to music are apparent.

Piephoff also recognizes the value of music as a tool for therapy, a cure for nearly every ill. The songwriter uses melody to bring his introspective poems and haunting truths to life.

Indefatigable and prolific singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonica player Bruce Piephoff has released over 20 albums. While his voice shows some sounds of aging on this release, it doesn’t detract from his telling of sly stories with matter-of-fact delivery and wry humor.

Songs like “Carolina Dutch and Broken Backed Ben” and “Ballad of Robert Pete Williams” provide many personal observations. They aren’t on quite the same plane as Townes Van Zandt’s “Mr. Gold and Mr. Mudd” or a clever tale of two outlaws, “Poncho and Lefty,” but Piephoff clearly has a sharp mind and keen ear.

The title cut has a rollicking country beat. “Hucksters” is presented as a spoken poem, and “For Marvin” is also spoken as a tribute to a departed friend with understated moody sax, guitar, and brushes. A similar avant-garde eulogy is heard in “Ransom Notes,” a spoken story tribute to a lovable, gentle soul and fellow musician (Billy Ransom Hobbs) who tragically passed about 2008. Piephoff promises that the two will meet again “backstage” when he gets there. Elsewhere, “Mad Song” is a romantic statement that concludes “the songs still shine, and the words still rhyme.”

Despite the able instrumental support of seven other musicians (Scott Sawyer, Ron Brendle, Bobby Cohen, John Simonetti, Dave Finucane, Mike Babyak, and Adrian Duke), most of the arrangements seem spare and pensive. Sawyer and Piephoff first met about 1975, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they reconnected on stage. Sawyer’s electric guitar is the primary instrument filling the gaps between verses, and I wish that the 18-track project would’ve incorporated at least a tad of vocal harmony.

The album evolves into some jazz-infused offerings like “Her Habit Was Strong,” “Old Crow,” and “For Marvin,” with Finucane’s tenor sax featured. “Wind From Newport News” is a showcase for Babyak’s steel guitar, as Bruce sings about being “out there fighting lions where the lions ain’t been.” I can’t help but wonder if the song isn’t somewhat autobiographical, as he refers to “laughter in your poetry, turning darkness into light.”

This album will be embraced with earnest by the fans of Piephoff’s music and poetry. I would also recommend it for those who might like to discover his sheer creative audacity, enlightening perspective, and affirmative spirit.

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