Though I hadn't known a thing about Tom Laverack before I unexpectedly received a copy of his newest CD, Cave Drawings (Sojourn Records), two facts about him immediately caught my fancy. First was his involvement in the soundtracks of two independent horror flicks, Wendigo and The Last Winter, the first of which I'd actually seen on Sundance Channel one late night; second was the biographical detail that the man has made his living as a social worker in New York. Harder to gauge which is the more difficult avocation: laboring as a singer/songwriter or working in social services.
Laverack's newest reportedly took over four years to complete and includes three tracks that appeared in the apocalyptic Winter. None too surprisingly, these three cuts ("Precious Little," "Running Out of Road," "No Shame") all share a fatalistic tone — as do many of the other tracks, which tend toward rootsy mid-tempo rock or more mournful balladry with an occasional country soul lick tossed in for good measure. Listening to the mid-tempo opener, "Coney Island Heart," I found myself flashing on both Springsteen and Lou Reed, though Laverack's country-folkish delivery may get you thinking more of Steve Earle.
To these ears, the more energetic tracks are the album's high points, though the insertion of soul sax by movie maker Larry Fessenden on a track like "Running Out of Road" is a particularly neat touch. Most striking of the slow 'uns turns out to be "Dead Dog," wherein the singer comes upon a boy mourning over a dead pet hit by a truck. "I'd give it all up if I ever made it," Laverack sings, "just to save this dead dog," even if he knows he just singing into the wind.
Laverack's lyrics can be merciless when considering the state of nation ("Blinded by our entitlement, our dollar signs read 'In God We Trust,'" he notes on the lopingly soulful "Precious Little"), but he can also be sharp on a self-castigating track like "Foolish Enough to Think," where he laments his inability to change his own self-destructive habits. This willingness to shift from the blisteringly social (check out his nursing home rant, "No Shame") to the equally self-critical proves one of Laverack's strengths as a lyricist.
Laverack's back-up is provided by group of steady sidemen: Marc Shulman, who has worked with Suzanne Vega, and Joel Hoekstra on guitars; bassist Jeff Langston and label co-president Mark Ambrosino, who provides a suitably strong Max Weinberg-y beat to it all. Hoekstra's stinging work on "Foolish Enough to Think" is a particular stand-out, though his thoughtfully hooky licks on "Coney Island Heart" are also worth noting.
"You don't know if you'll leave behind anything after you're gone," Laverack sings on the disc's title song, adding that he's content to leave little memories of "how this world did feel" for those who are willing to listen. After regular plays of this evocatively grown-up set of rootsy vignettes, count me among the willing.