Procol Harum

the Pale

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Prodigal Chris Merola

Straight Answer in a Crooked Town

All I Ever Wanted

Giving Up The Ghost

Eden's Bridge

Junkyard Balladeer

God's Telescope

Pours Down Like Rain

Hole In The Road

Vagabond Soul

Sold Down The River



Farther Along *

Weight Of The Wind

Paper Thin

Last Ride

All by Merola
except * (trad)

On this very pleasing album Chris Merola (who may be heard on The Prodigal Stranger) sings and harmonises, and plays acoustic, electric, baritone, and 'swamp' guitars, mandolin, fiddle, piano, bass, banjo, harmonica and Prozac shaker: he also wrote all but one of the tracks, takes credit for layout, design and photography, and he recorded, produced and engineered the whole thing on Tascam 246 4-track cassette recorder. Five other musicians are credited, though oddly they're not quite the same names as he credits as 'my band' in the liner note.

This is relaxed, capable playing that succeeds in sounding very fresh and warm, despite residing squarely in an established musical and lyrical tradition of the enquiring, intelligent songwriting strummer, painting an outsider's musical picture of a certain period in a declining culture in the same way that Richard Thompson has been doing so beautifully, and so long, the other side of the ocean.

Was it his lyrical standpoint that encouraged Keith Reid to invite Chris into the studio in 1991? ... He uses the Prodigal approach to titling the album: 'Straight Answer in a Crooked Town' is not the name of a song, but a phrase occurring midway in one: Hole in the Road, in fact.

Most distinguished is the Merola voice, strong, soulful and dark, riding over the spare arrangements with inviting precision. You might mistake Junkyard Balladeer momentarily for Nebraska-style Springsteen, and his higher register has the tinge of Neil Young: occasional echoes of the most plangent elements of Elvis Costello's King of America ... despite the moody dobro obviously Chris obviously has at least one boot on a musical highway already marked by the footsteps of Guthrie and Dylan: but his voice, his melodies and his integrity are far too strong to sound derivative.

We're reviewing the album here because of his participation in The Prodigal Stranger, but I think it is fair to say that the overlap with Procol Harum is as close to zero as one can imagine: curiously, it's a fine album nonetheless! There's more label information here, including sound samples: if Chris is showing anywhere near you, you could be certain of a rewarding evening in his musical company.

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More about Chris Merola and other Imponderable Strangers

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