Zachary Cale - "Hello Oblivion" (Noise of Welcome)
Zachary Cale has a lot of music in and around him, and it’s been a pleasure watching him get it out thus far. He’s a guitarist and songwriter at the center of a community that he supports, has played in a number of bands here and there (the tumultuous-sounding Illuminations, a rockin’ straight bar band called Rope) and self-releases his own music on the All Hands Electric label, acting as a patron to a number of bands in Brooklyn and beyond. Becoming a proficient, memorable jack-of-all-trades across genres and flavors of rock is not an easy task, but Cale is going for his “EGOT,” to quote 30 Rock, with his third solo album Noise of Welcome as the latest shift in his presentation.
While Cale’s first two albums (2004’s Outlander Sessions and 2008’s Walking Papers) were stark, chilly affairs, Noise of Welcome introduces full band arrangements on nearly every song, a change which he’s worked into his live band as well. He’s also coaxed guest appearances out of Chris Brokaw, D. Charles Speer and Anni Rossi, who help Cale procure a nice, round, tastefully dry backing ensemble of guitars, strings, bows and keys. He’s among the most successful current musicians I know of, in terms of blending the structure and influence of traditional folk and bluegrass into accessibly rootsy alt-rock/country songs, serving as a sort of buffer between your Jack Roses and Bishop brothers and people with more popular ideas at stake. Go to any music town like Austin or Nashville and you’ll find a bunch of guys who think their music sounds like this record.
And yet, or maybe even for that reason, Cale doesn’t easily fit into the rigid genre classifications of today’s miniaturized rock ‘n’ roll marketplace. He’s a strong lyricist who relies on similes and metaphors, and somehow manages to get away with it. But he’s got a reedy voice with a lot of slack personality to it, at the point where Tom Petty’s knowing Southern drawl meets Gordon Lightfoot’s stately enunciation, which is more suitable to certain types of songs than others. A song like “Mourning Glory Kid,” with subdued Benmont Tench-isms in the piano part, could be viewed as either a worshipful paean to Petty, or the kind of song he might put on the next Heartbreakers album. It’s great, and so is the parlour country bash of “Day for Night” — but while both stand on their own and must have been fun to play, the styles don’t necessarily complement one another. Cale asks of the listener to do their jobs as listeners, to let him help them transcend the many styles present on Noise of Welcome in favor of the person behind it all. Sadly, that’s far too great of a commitment for most audiences when they’re asked of a bit more of their attention spans than they brought with them on a night out, or a spin through the iTunes store.
Compared (if we must) to a musician like Kurt Vile, who runs in a comparable circle, plays in a much more limited and roughshod setting, and has a little greater acceptance, Cale offers so many possibilities in terms of direction that it almost goes against the nature of album sequencing on the whole. And Noise of Welcome is the kind of record with a stronger second half, albeit one that needs its first five songs for acclimation purposes. Repeat listens actually find the variety melting away into an overall appreciation for the artist, of whose kind several have gone before. But take into account the 3rd Avenue (Gowanus) freezeouts he’s offered up before, and there’s no denying the liberation in making a record that sounds this full, and so full of purpose and promise.