Casal, Neal

Roots & Wings [Rock / Alternative]

RELEASE: 30.01.2009

LABEL: Fargo Records

VERTRIEB: Rough Trade


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In Neal Casal one hears a true voice, a singer-songwriter who plies his craft because he must, because the songs demand to be born and sung and carried from town to town. His music hums with the thoughtful buzz of vintage California rock, sunset hayrides full of introspective lyrics and magnetically catchy tunes. His songs crystallize all those little things we don't say to each other but think just the same. In his work there are echoes of My Morning Jacket, Tim Hardin and other resolutely honest tunesmiths. Over the course of six full-length studio albums he's never wavered from staring down life with an emotional density that's rare these days.

On his last release, Return In Kind, Casal turned his attention to the musical food that has fed him. Over the course of 10 well-chosen covers, Neal quietly explicated the roots of his muse, tipping the hat to Gene Clark (Byrds), Royal Trux, Johnny Thunders, Love As Laughter and more.

It's fitting that the collection begins with "Debris" a song from the Faces' Ronnie Lane, a musician celebrated by all who knew him but always a somewhat distant figure to casual listeners. Casal operates in similar territory. Those who know his music tend to love it passionately, mining his albums for new truths and constantly finding them. Return In Kind escapes the easy choices of most covers sets and instead focuses on material he can inhabit as his own.

The album received four-star reviews in Mojo & Uncut magazines, where it's recognized as a set that bridges the gap between classic seventies singer-songwriters and the modern crop of introspective strummers like Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith.

His understated yet wholly satisfying guitar playing has made him much in demand with musicians like Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Badly Drawn Boy and the Beachwood Sparks, amongst many others.

Recent live collaborations include Ken Stringfellow (Posies) and Gary Louris (Jayhawks). But he always returns to his own music, compelled back out of necessity. There's never the taint of commercial premeditation or artistic compromise in Casal's music, which carries an out-of-time quality similar to Van Morrison's early work. Like a good filmmaker, Neal's world is his own but it illuminates our own with his tales of bottomed out life and how one climbs back from that place.

A self-proclaimed photography nut, he has an eye for details that stay with you. Images resonate because they're the same ones we've seen in our own heads but never managed to mangle into words. This gift for lasting impressions is right there in the first notes of his 1995 debut, Fade Away Diamond Time, where a day in the sun reminds us that "even if tomorrow's looking like a daydream it ain't enough to slowly watch it pass." His voice slices down to deep stuff, pulling scraps from the lockbox of memory, fragments of good days and bad, like on his last solo effort, Anytime Tomorrow, where he observes:

From fireworks and peaches
To weed, speed and bluegrass
From buses that burn
And barns that lean down
As far as my memory reaches

Which brings us to Hazy Malaze, Neal's soul power trio with drummer Dan Fadel & bassist Jeff Hill that emerged in 2003 with a cracking debut (with demos for a follow-up already in the can). This group brings out something new in Neal's voice, a sour to counter the sweet, a bit more wolf under the sheepskin than many might have expected.

"I've always had the rock'n'roll in me. I started out as a guitar player. I didn't even want to be a singer. I just wanted to play rhythm guitar. That side of me has always been there but I've never had a proper way to bring it out. It amazes me everyday because I thought I'd never be in a real band. I've been doing this a long time and this magical chemistry just passed me by. The minute I gave it up and finally and truly forgot about it was when it came to me."

Hazy Malaze sound like what might have happened if the Meters had passed the peace pipe with Little Feat's Lowell George. Hazy Malaze provides a rough edged counterpoint to the sensitivity of Casal's solo work, revealing new facets of an artist always on the road to something, a nomadic point-of-view that begins in his childhood spent moving between California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Detroit and New York.

He has garnered accolades over the years including Basement Dreams being named Best Americana album of 1999 in Mojo and a recent four-star review for 2003's excellent anthology of his solo work, Maybe California, in the French edition of Rolling Stone. As is often the case, this American boy is better known outside the U.S. but the European & Japanese audiences enthusiasm for Casal's work is striking. In another era, his songs would be radio staples but they require an audience that will let the music sink in more slowly than a 3 minute burst. That he's never wavered in his commitment to great songwriting and thoughtful presentations says a lot about the man's character.

Neal has recently released No Wish To Reminisce, his brand new studio new album recorded with producer Michael Deming (Lilys, Pernice Brothers, Beachwood Sparks) with the Hazy Malaze rhythm team providing the foundation.

(Quelle: Fargo Records, 2009)


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