Review Summary: Maybe if my beard were as long as Baribeau's, I'd write music as wise as his.
It’s rare to find wisdom in music. Especially in music that’s made by a bearded, surf-rock loving, 30-something year old from Michigan. Yet somehow, Paul Baribeau has managed to write a record that is as wise as it is honest. Although Grand Ledge may not be a conventionally ‘well-played’ or ‘well-sung’ collection of songs, it is an album that prospers on the basis of its emotional value. Paul Baribeau’s second effort travels from despair to hope, from melancholy to joy, and almost never falters along the way.
The foundation of Grand Ledge is Paul Baribeau’s lyricism. The songwriting style he had already established with his debut comes to life in his sophomore release. Paul doesn’t just sing; he weaves tales, full of loneliness and love, in a way that makes you feel like you were sitting right beside him all along. From ‘Ten Things’, his anthem to living life, to ‘Last Time’, a song about nearly forgotten friendships, Paul’s lyrics are consistently humble and heartfelt. Grand Ledge is full of gems like “Everywhere I go, everyone I know comes with, wonder how many more can fit inside this crazy, crowded heart” and “I’m learning how to be alone, without being lonely, learning how to be lonely without losing my mind.” Paul Baribeau may keep it simple, almost never bothering with grandiose language and metaphorical abstractions, but the simplicity gives his lyrics innocence and meaning that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
Perhaps one of the more difficult aspects of Grand Ledge to digest is its roughness. Especially for people unaccustomed to low-fi, unproduced music, it can be almost unbearable (see what I did there?) to listen to at first. The raw quality of Paul’s voice and the choppy guitars may be hard to look past, but the reward of being able to accept this seemingly unrefined style is incomparable. Grand Ledge may not be as accessible as Paul Baribeau’s third release, Unbearable, because of this, but what it may lack in production value it makes up for in passion. The benefit of Paul’s raspy vocals and out of time guitars is the added quality of realness and emotional fervor. It’s not just a record that was churned out in a studio; it’s a piece of Paul Baribeau’s life that he has shared with the world, imperfections and all.
Paul Baribeau is nothing if not honest. He manages to record music that is humble, heartfelt, emotional and meaningful without it ever coming across as pretentious. Whether the secret lies in the length of his beard or his wintry origins is unclear. What is clear however, is that his music is the voice of lovers and loners the world over. Grand Ledge is, to date, Paul Baribeau at his absolute best.