Review in Dirty Linen

The cover says it all. A stark black-and-white photograph shows Lawrence pointing a rifle with the promise that he's not going to miss. You can tell from the look in his eye that he's committed to blowing us away. And sure enough, he does.

As we've come to expect from someone who is, arguably, one of the most overlooked talents in the country, Lawrence delivers yet another set of biting, sardonic and sometimes painful songs. And his is a spare delivery: in fact, the notion of production values is really an oxymoron. He may be a great flatpicker, but he's not afraid to augment his sound with a variety of unusual accessories -- a faux bass (it's really a Telecaster tuned "wicked low") and faux drums that consist of a closet wall, wooden spoons, a Reliance portable toilet, egg shakers, maple kindling and a Genny Light beer carton complete with empty cans. Oh, yes, let's not forget his Remington 870 Express 20 gauge shotgun. (It must have been a blast.) And powering this experiment in unusual home recording efforts were solar panels, a wind generator and golf-cart batteries.

Somehow, though, this stripped-down style also makes his music more accessible, even more intimate. As a result, you can feel his pride and frustration in what should be a classic, or at least his signature song, "Just Down the Road from Shania Twain," in which Lawrence laments and also boasts that his claim to fame is being a neighbor of the self-styled country babe. Don't believe him? Just ask the UPS man; he's the one who brings the packages to both front doors. On another track, through, he seems a bit ambivalent about fame -- in "Famous People," Lawrence relates how he met a bunch of famous people at a party, but he just can't remember their names. Maybe it's a bid to level the playing field. After all, this is his fifth disc already and he's still not a household name.

Still, Lawrence has a wonderful way of telling a story. Just listen to "The Day the Humvee Came," a retelling of the 1998 snowstorm that engulfed his spartan corner of upstate New York, or "Mark the Shark," an ode to a DJ on a local radio station favored by Native Americans. Perhaps the best track on this outstanding collection is the opener, "Pay a Price," in which Lawrence sings of sacrifice and wanting. It's a sobering but earnest beginning to a disc that is packed with wonderful tunes that should cement his place as a songwriter to hear -- and watch.

Ed Silverman
Dirty Linen


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