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Hayden - Elk-Lake Serenade

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Artist: Hayden

Album: Elk-Lake Serenade

Label: Badman

Review date: Aug. 31, 2004

Elk-Lake Serenade, Toronto singer-songwriter Hayden’s fourth album, could be the soundtrack to some Hollywood tearjerker. The sweeping strings of “Wide Eyes” open the record on a Tom Waits note and lead into the story of a man desperate to impress an old love. Hayden’s comic-tragic male protagonist/archetype works his way through several different phases: Infidelity, death, drinking problems, divorce and, in the album’s coda, an arrest. It’s a testament to Hayden’s narrative abilities that he manages to make such sad, dramatic, potentially ridiculous material into a convincing story. Even the lighter lyrical material, such as “Woody,” an ode to a cat in heat, manage a sense of longing due to Hayden’s sparse instrumentation and resonant voice.

Hayden’s best songs are his quietest. The death-by-grizzly-bear mini-epic “Killbear” showcases Hayden’s tender, cracking vocals next to a quietly-picked acoustic guitar and light strings. The surprisingly catchy “Home by Saturday,” shares a close affinity to Will Oldham in its blend of country, folk and blues with indie-rock sensibilities. Hayden, however, avoids Oldham’s periodic aloofness, and presents his tales of loss and debauchery in a more straightforward manner.

When Hayden turns up the volume, as on the aptly-titled “Hollywood Ending” and “My Wife,” he starts drifting toward Pete Yorn/VH1 territory. Thankfully, the majority of the songs stay rooted in sadness and these rocking flourishes pass by without doing too much damage the cohesiveness of the album – Elk-Lake Serenade’s most valuable asset. The overarching narrative structure and sequencing make this album a well-conceived exercise in storytelling. When the album finally ends, it’s easy to imagine credits rolling up a silver screen.

By Jon Pitt

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