In Songs from the (quaking) Heart, environmental activist Paul Doffing—who recently toured the United States on bicycle—seems to have put together a story in three acts and topped it off with a grand finale. All aspects of this folk album have been stripped down to their most simple form; all the tracks feature vocals (manipulated only in the opening track with a distortion effect) and an acoustic guitar and most of them are mid-tempo.
The first act is “the depressing opening” in which Doffing presents a bleak, depressing overview of life. He claims in “Reason” that “Not all dreams come true” and that “I can’t have the things that I want.” Just like with most of the tracks on this album, the song begins with a simple melody plucked on an acoustic guitar. In contrast however, the vocals in this track has been uniquely distorted. The very simple melody in the purely acoustic follow-up, “The Drifter”, borders on depressing, thus reinforcing the melancholic and dark mood set by the opening track. Similarly, “Sure Doesn’t Matter Anymore” questions everything: “Forget all the songs you/Used to know/And forget all the people you/Used to hold/There is a young man inside you/And he’s growing old/So forget all those pieces/You think you hold/Cause they sure don’t matter anymore.” This mindset continues in “The Legend of Mick Dodge” which comes off as dreary and hopeless. The despair in the lyrics and melody of the first four tracks make the beginning of Songs from the (quaking) Heart somewhat difficult to get through.
But from the first few moments of “the emerging light”, i.e. the second act, things start changing. The acoustic guitar opening of “How Could” is sweet with a deliberate slight hesitation to Doffing’s guitar plucking. The lyrics are also a breath of fresh air: “How could I have ever found you/My own heart racing down every street/And how could you have ever loved me”, making love the contrasting factor between the first two acts. The sound of chirping birds opening “New Day Dawning” underlines the optimism in this track while “Slow I go” touches upon the importance of treading the path of life slowly but surely in the company of others—perhaps to counter the despair that tinged the first part of this album.
“(No Path Up) Cold Mountain”, the second all acoustic offering on this album, which cranks up the rhythm a little more, seems to usher in the third act, the “action packed climax”. This is where Doffing encourages us to claim ownership of our lives and build a better world. In the delicately country flavoured “Banker’s $”, he claims how “I’m chasing of all my dreams/But I’ll share them all with you/’Cause we can’t keep on living separate/Sad, lonesome, tired, and blue”, a call for togetherness and empathy. He takes a step further in “Burning Down my Hiding Place”, claiming that he “found a place to hide away” until someone burned it down, making him realise that although “I thought I’d been through all I’d take,” he just might be stronger than he realised. It’s a nice reminder that although acting on our beliefs is important, mutual assistance is essential in keeping pace. This assistance can be downright harsh at times. The cheerfulness of “Today is Mine”—where Doffing admits that “I still smile/When I see the sunshine”—tops off this last act.
In his “final act”, Doffin puts it all together to frankly discuss a matter that holds much importance to him: the environment. The most upbeat track of this album also has the most provoking title: “Nuclear Radiation”. It seems to be a manifesto calling for people to wake up and see what they have been doing to the earth because “our power has polluted our minds”. Paul Doffing also shares his concerns about the environment on his Facebook page. More information about his music is available on his official website and the album is available on Bandcamp.
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