TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Burden of Proof," the latest album by Austin based singer-songwriter Bob Schneider. Ken says this album of mostly melancholy songs set within starkly attractive melodies deserves to be heard by a larger audience.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BOB SCHNEIDER: (Singing) I wish I was a baby bird sleeping in the brown winter grass in April while the sun was going down. I wish my shoes were empty and I was still in bed with you there beside me with your dreams inside your head. I wish the world would do what I want it to. And I wish the wind would blow me, blow me back to you.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Bob Schneider's "Burden of Proof" is a frequently beautiful, often morose, downcast album. I get the feeling he's using broken romantic relationships metaphorically, that when he sings about not connecting with someone he loves, he's also singing about not connecting with a bigger audience. And he does it with just the right lack of self-pity to make what he's bemoaning interesting.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) (Unintelligible) on the world and take a ride. I'll meet you on the other side. Like the way I feel, heavy all around. You're around, the guards nowhere to be found.
TUCKER: The music on "Burden of Proof" is mostly straightforward singer-songwriter pop folk rock with regular appearances by the Tosca String Quartet. I gather the sound on "Burden of Proof," which is tasteful without being too mild, is tidier than the Bob Schneider music you'd get if you saw him in a club in Austin, Texas, but Schneider's musical experimentation and precise arrangements really pay off on a regular basis here. As on the sad sack lovely song called "Weed Out the Weak."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEED OUT THE WEAK")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) I had a dream. Dreamed I was dying to see you again. But when I awoke, the world was on fire, dying, and then I saw the sun burst into flame, but all at once everything changed for the better. It seemed like it does in the dream sometimes.
TUCKER: One element that prevents Schneider from disappearing up his own despair is the way he regularly snaps out of his own self-consideration to focus on the person in front of him. Thus, a song like "Please Ask for Help." Against spare arrangement, Schneider's voice rings with a convincing sincerity as he politely recognizes that someone he's fond of could use some assistance.
The melody he builds around the title plea is the musical opposite of an intervention. It's the sound of discretion, of communicating that he's here if you want him.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLEASE ASK FOR HELP")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Well, life is hard most of the time, well some of the time for sure. And it might seem like you can't count on anyone anymore. The weight of your hand is weighing you down when the world's pushing you around. I found a way. I wish that you could. I wish that you would. Please ask for help. Ask for help. Please ask for help. Please ask for help. Please ask for help. You like to pretend you know everything...
TUCKER: Schneider regularly breaks up the pensive mood of "Burden of Proof" with some excellent lighter hearted music. Nowhere is this more plangent than on the pretty acoustic guitar croon on the song called "The Effect."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE EFFECT")
SCHNEIDER: (Singing) I can't say nay. I've got my mind filling up with flames. I do declare at first it gave me quite a scare. Now I like the effect. It's not what one would expect. It comes near me every once in a while. I've grown accustomed to my charcoal smile. I live - I live - in the sea - in the sea with the spiders and the anemones. And they aren't what I would call very good company at all.
(Singing) They're the company I keep. Can't be too picky in the deep. And, hey, who am I to say what's really good company, anyway? And there's a planet - there's a planet - in outer space...
TUCKER: Ultimately, "Burden of Proof" strikes me as a collection of songs about self-doubt executed by an artist making music that avoids a trace of self-doubt. The resulting tension between the lyrics and the music makes for frequent drama. It might be drama of a quiet sort or of a subdued stubbornness, but it's compelling drama nevertheless.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Bob Schneider's new album "Burden of Proof." You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org. You can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. Our blog is on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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