Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Paul Buchanan - Mid Air

Paul Buchanan, lead singer and songwriter of Glasgow mopesters The Blue Nile, is known as a meticulous craftsman. He’s released a grand total of five albums in a 31-year recording career. To say that he makes every note count might be an understatement. Considering the paltry output of his band and the minimal arrangements of his songs, he averages about a note per month.

Now at age 56, without a band, on his own musically and relationally, and possessing a lifetime of loss and regret, he’s released his first solo album Mid Air.

Buchanan has not lived an extraordinary life. He hasn’t staggered through decades of rock ‘n roll debauchery or careened from one high-profile jet-setting relationship to another. He’s merely lived in Glasgow, a mile or so from his bandmates of 30 years, and awakened day after day. And through the mysterious entropy of time and the vagaries of the heart, he’s simply grown apart from those who were closest to him. Friends have died. The love he swore would last forever and withstand the buffets of the harshest of circumstances has somehow, inexplicably, drifted like smoke in the wind. And so he sits down at the piano and tries to work it out, wondering what the hell happened:

The buttons on your collar
The color of your hair
I think I see you everywhere
I want to live forever
And watch you dancing in the air
All lies and make believe
The very thing that one day leaves
But I can see you standing in mid-air.

The girl I want to marry upon the high trapeze
The day she fell and hurt her knees
And only time can heal it
But it’s the wind that blows away the leaves
For everything that life was worth
The fallen snow, the Virgin Birth,
Yeah, I can you standing in mid-air.

Start with one piano playing blocked chords. Mix in a hint of ghostly strings from time to time. Add a cracked and broken voice that barely rises above a whisper. And there you have Mid Air.

I’m fairly certain that it’s one of the finest albums I’ve heard this year. Those of you who are familiar with Buchanan’s old band know that he has a quietly devastating, soulful voice. He uses that voice here – a little frayed around the edges, and all the more effective for it – to superb effect. The songs are sad but never lugubrious, tinged with regret but never awash in cheap nostalgia, and surprisingly, almost shockingly, full of hard-won hope and promise. It’s a flat-out gorgeous album, resplendently beautiful.

And it has nothing to do with rock ‘n roll. The musical antecedents here are Sinatra’s 3:00 a.m. ruminations from the late ‘50s (without the over-the-top string and horn arrangements) and Tom Waits’ beat poetry and anthems from the late-night saloon. Consider it a minimalist musical masterpiece that confronts the deepest and darkest chambers of the human heart, and finds a bit of light in the inner recesses. I’ll settle for that formula any time. Paul Buchanan is welcome to take as long as he likes and needs.


Burningbluesoul said...

Fantastic review Andy. I've always been interested in Paul's work with and apart from Blue Nile. You captured the very heart of this record. Please eend me your email address at allmusic.


lbotta said...

Thanks Andy, I am not sure if you were on a vacation or a hiatus. I do know a great deal occurred personally for you in a short amount of time though. I do know on thing however, I am sure glad to have you back talking about music. Look forward to more insight.


Jeff K. said...

Andy, it's good to have you back. I hope you're well.

Ian said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Glad to see you posting again!

sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for sharing.

Milton Peasley said...

Yes yes and yes again for Paul B and The Blue Nile. Recommend check out Blog On The Tracks for "The Paul Buchanan Interview". You can pick up on what seems like this feeling of immense, intense responsibility Buchanan seems to feel for each word, each note of his output. I recently revisited the old Blue Nile albums and was re-amazed. "Remazed" - can I claim a new word here?