Folk music is alive and well. Simon Petty has resurrected the sound of 1970s English folk music by merging his smoky voice with strong piano licks and guitar. Each song seems to merge a melancholy feel with powerful melodies to evoke an emotional connection. Petty also uses unique sounds like the beat of windshield wipers in "Sleeping in the Car" to provide an organic quality to the tracks.
But at the heart of each song, is his lyrics and his voice. The voice is hard to describe without using words like "smoky" and "husky", but I would most compare it to Peter Gabriel in some respects. Not that Gabriel ever did this style of music, but I think Petty has the same English-born quality that Gabriel has.
Add to that the amazing guitar work and I was in seventh heaven. As an amateur guitar player, I am always listening for picking patterns and transitions and Petty's style evokes some of the mystique of folk legends like Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor.
Almost 10 years ago now, Petty came to America with the quartet Minibar to record an album with T Bone Burnett and Universal Records. Though that album, Road Movies didn't do well commercially, Minibar stayed in California and made two more albums, touring with bands like Willco, Teenage Fanclub, The Jayhawks, and The Wallflowers.
The Sea, The Sea is Petty's first solo album, produced by Seth Rothschild and recorded between Texas and Brooklyn. The CD includes eleven great songs, but I found myself gravitating towards tracks like "State of the Union Address" and "A Part of the River" for their strong guitar parts and stirring lyrics.
"State of the Union Address" is a beautiful song about letting a girl down easily, but contains some imagery about the cruelty of such an act. "I know it hurts like / Cigarette burns … but you'll see / you'll see / it's all gonna fade / eventually…" The guitar work reminds me a bit of David Wilcox with the simple, yet moving baseline that keeps the song chugging along with a light feel even with the heavy subject matter.
"A Part of the River" tells the story of a man telling his lover that it's not going to be an easy road if she stays with him. "And cruel, cruel as I am / I know there's nothing to rely upon / But the weight of your hand" – it's a pained love. And he'll eventually come back to her, but "it won't be an easy ride / if you try and stay with me / I'm a part of the river / that flows away from the sea" – but he may leave again. Their relationship is like the waves rushing in and out with the tides. With the melody, Petty adds to the simplicity of his guitar and vocals with some backing strings to provide some additional depth.
"Diamond in the Sand" features Petty alone with a guitar and is beautiful in its simplicity, telling the story of a man and woman trying to find a perfect relationship – like trying to find a "diamond in the sand". Love is hard to find and in the end, he comes to realize that he has what he's been searching for. "And it occurs to me that we're wasting our time / I can't believe what I hold in my hands / Why am I trying to find a diamond in the sand?" He'd already found his diamond in the sand.
If you, like me, are a folk junkie, I think you'll find The Sea, The Sea by Solomon's Seal much to your liking. You can take a listen to some of the tracks at Petty's website – SolomonsSealMusic.com. But be sure to support this great artist by picking up the album while you're there.