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Music Review: Joe Purdy – Only Four Seasons

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When a major newspaper anoints a singer “Artist to Look Out For,” visions of synthesizers, canned lyrics, and slick production dance in your head. When that artist is Joe Purdy, the expectation couldn’t be further from the truth. One listen to Purdy’s music — showcased nicely on his latest album Only Four Seasons — and the listener is pulled into the smooth, simple, relaxed storytelling favored by folk pioneers including Peter, Paul and Mary, and Fairport Convention. It’s clear Purdy isn’t just another musical flavor of the day.

“I think there’s a large influx of people who want a simpler sound,”  Purdy told me from a tour bus making its way toward Minneapolis. “Some people just love to have simple stories told by somebody with a guitar.”

That’s what they get on Purdy’s recent work. What sets Purdy apart is that the story takes center stage and the music — whether piano, electric guitar, drums, mandolin, or whatever — supports, but never overshadows, it.  That allows the listener into the story. You don’t have to wonder what Purdy means in a song – he tells you.

Take these sample lyrics from “Andrea” – “And I was moving closer, You pretended not to notice, I was waiting on a sign, You looked up and smiled.” No second-guessing needed there.

While his style is a classic bluegrass/folk mix, his lyrics and singing style are all his own, intimate and fresh, even spicy when he adds a harmonica on “Cinderella and the A Train” or a synthesizer on “Rainy Day Lament.”

Purdy’s latest tour supports Only Four Seasons, his fifth album but his first with a full band and his first under a recent publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music. His previous albums include StompinGroundsJulie Blue, and his self-titled debut.

A number of Purdy’s songs have been featured on commercial television, which seems a bit of a contradiction considering the music is produced by a man who only plays vinyl records at home and enthusiastically discusses Bob Dylan’s classic Blonde on Blonde.

“I’m all right with it,” said Purdy, who hails from Arkansas. “TV shows are the new reason musicians don’t have to rely on major labels. I don’t want to be mean-spirited, but I want to prove to the major labels that… we still have the power to give people good music and they’ll buy it.”

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