“A record that will undoubtedly delight guitarists as much as it will plunge some of them into insurmountable inferiority complexes, this is recommended listening for any fan of rather sophisticated songwriting.”
Michael Schatte – Conundrum – Album Review
The sixth album in nearly fifteen years from what international critics call both “the best kept secret of the Canadian music scene” and “a kind of missing link between Colin James, T-Bone Burnett and Richard Thompson.” That’s quite a lot to live up to, but it’s precisely what Michael Schatte is doing over the fifteen tracks that comprise his latest CD. Listening to the lively (and poetically suggestive) “Water in the Kettle,” you can appreciate these comparisons. Hinting at the games of seduction played by lovers, this intro track reveals that Schatte is grounded in a rock tradition that draws on Celtic roots (the song’s bridge section mixes guitar and violin, just before a hair-raising six-string electric solo) as well as African-American influences (that irrepressible shuffle groove). The heavy “Dry Black Powder” pushes the metaphors even further, describing a case of morbid dependence on one’s lover, while “Genevieve” and “Daria” evoke the dark mood of early Dire Straits. The lightning dexterity of Michael Schatte is on full display in the fast-paced “Silly Old Man” and the funky, swinging “The Upper Hand” (where his guitar takes a Hendrixian turn with the tasteful support of Carson Freeman’s saxophone). The tasty Chicago shuffle “Please Don’t Dance With My Brother” and the boogies “Longtime Lover” and “Come On Down” once again deal with romantic rivalry (it seems that Schatte is the jealous type). On the other hand, “Bread, Water, Love” (named for a work of the same title by poet John B. Lee, who recites it here) and “The Candy Aisle,” connect again with Celtic roots in a manner not unlike our own Dan Ar Bras, his friend Rory Gallagher, and certain Led Zeppelin songs that smuggle in the style. The album closes with a breathtaking instrumental medley in tribute to the great Richard Thompson (“Good King Richard”) which interweaves three traditional tunes and Thompson’s “The Knife Edge.” It’s also of note that Michael plays (and brilliantly) almost all the instruments (organ, bass, violin, piano, accordion and mandolin, the exception being the drums) on more than half of the songs (a consequence of confinement?). A record that will undoubtedly delight guitarists as much as it will plunge some of them into insurmountable inferiority complexes, this is recommended listening for any fan of rather sophisticated songwriting.