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Jose Gonzalez - Stay in the Shade EP

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Artist: Jose Gonzalez

Album: Stay in the Shade EP

Label: Hidden Agenda

Review date: Feb. 25, 2006

Jose Gonzalez’s debut album, Veneer, topped many 2005 top ten lists, serving as an honest, unadorned acoustic antidote to ears newly opened to folk sounds. While the last great hope of folk served up 22 tracks of hit-or-miss retro-rock, and called it Cripple Crow, Sweden’s Gonzalez offered 11 quiet nylon-string meditations, devoid of flights of fancy, but as precise and soulful as any record released last year. Not surprisingly, Gonzalez updates now rule the music-blog world, and fans who have listened Veneer to death, for surely it was a record that called for repeated listens, anxiously await new material. Stay in the Shade should serve as a nice treat to help hold fans over until a new record is completed.

The EP’s title track is the only one taken from Veneer, and sounds newly confident as a lead song; it’s use of hand drums may be among the best in Gonzalez’s catalogue. Stylistically, the other, new tracks here could easily have been included on Veneer, and are as good as anything Gonzalez has written. “Down the Hillside” mixes one of Gonzalez’s most infectious melodies with some of his most somber imagery: “It’s warm in the blood / Cold in the rain....But if you follow the void / It will lead you the way / Down the hillside to the cemetery.” “Sensing Owls” alone makes this 18-minute EP worthwhile, with its smooth and surprisingly sensual vocal melody and Gonzalez’s beckoning, “Come out where ever you are!” coda.

For many, Stay in the Shade’s main attraction is Gonzalez’s acoustic cover of Kylie Minogue’s pop hit “Hand On Your Heart,” which he delivers with complete sincerity and without the latent irony that plagues many contemporary artists’ stabs at ’80s pop songs. Gonzalez has become known as skilled interpreter of other’s songs. Veneer’s “Heartbeats” was a cover of a song by The Knife, and mp3’s of Gonzalez playing Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” are widely circulated. This ability to take such disparate sources and turn them into a sound that, all Elliot Smith and Nick Drake comparisons aside, truly belongs to Gonzalez is a testament to his talent, and “Hand On Your Heart” fits perfectly on this disc alongside Gonzalez’s own material.

Rounding up the EP is a pleasant instrumental, all fingerpicking and ambient noises. It’s an appropriate end to this small collection, as its lack of vocals (and it does feel like a lack) seems to beckon the listener to start the disc over, and let these little songs work their magic again and again.

By Jon Pitt

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