Review Summary: Thrice's singer does his best Bob Dylan impression just enough to make this album less enjoyable than the singer-songwriter gem it could have been. White men can't play the blues.
The summer before going to college I tried to attend as many shows as possible because I was moving from a great area for live music (the Bay Area) to a terrible area for live music (rural Massachusetts). The final and probably best show I saw was my last one of the summer, and I didn't go with my typical concert friends, but rather one friend who just happened to be a Thrice fan. The show was Dustin Kensrue performing live under the name Ursus Veritas (translation - "Bear of Truth"). Flashback for a moment to the period of time in 2002-2003 between The Illusion of Safety
and The Artist in the Ambulance
. Dustin played a solo show and some of the tracks were recorded and leaked onto limewire. Among the tracks was a cover of Pedro the Lion's "Secret of the Easy Yolk," Counting Crows' "Round Here" and one of Dustin's own songs, which was called "Folk." As much as I was excited to hear anything Dustin wrote, his covers were much better than his original songs. That was a little disheartening, but I was still excited to have what I did, and that's what prompted me to attend this Ursus Veritas show. Anyways, at the show, there were a few openers and all that including Rocky Votolato, and then Dustin killed for 40-45 playing mostly covers of songs by Elvis Costello, Sinead O'Conner, Radiohead, and The Beatles, but also some Thrice songs in acoustic, including the almost lost and forgotten "Madman," from the original pressing of Identity Crisis
, which is beautiful in acoustic form. Overall the concert was amazing. At the end of the show Dustin mentioned that he was going to ultimately record and release some solo material under the name Ursus Veritas.
That was in 2004. Now, in 2007, his solo works are finally being released under Dustin's full name and the title Please Come Home
. Flashing back again to the only original, non-Thrice Dustin song I had ever heard before this album's release, "Folk" was good but not great. The lyrics were memorable but not beautiful or even of a good quality. The music was pretty straight run of the mill, but was nice. So, when I put on Please Come Home
, I was surprised to hear the same chords of "Folk," just produced nicely with some added instruments and effects and under the name "I Knew You Before." The song is still nice and pretty but nothing more, and that is the grand problem with this CD. It can't escape being just above average, and it all stems from Dustin's use of the blues. As a general overview of the content of this album, Dustin has two modes: poppy singer-songwriter and Bob Dylan imitation blues. Poppy singer-songwriter mode is pretty nice and great and Dustin uses a lot of familiar but wonderfully played chord progressions and emotive singing. However, Bob Dylan imitation mode is painfully static. So, while there are bad songs on the CD, at least the whole CD isn't just some vanilla pop-blues. There are positives to work with!
And when Dustin is on, he can really be on
. His voice is really strong and distinctive for Thrice and Please Come Home
typically continues the trend, except for on a few songs, which I'll mention later. Also, Dustin's playing is equally strong and emotive. I once read in Guitar World that some famous guitarist had said that tone is more dependent on the player than any gear that goes into production, and this album is proof of Dustin's ability. His guitar tone is pretty wonderful throughout, which is definitely a product of his deft touch on the instrument. Sometimes he'll get a little sappy and strum with a purposefully viscous, molasses style during an emotional section to draw out the expressiveness of the passage, but in general, everything about his playing feels and sounds good. Now, this album is, at its core, a singer-songwriter album, and the most important part of all that after the performance is how well the songs are written. There are some great songs here; "Pistol," "Please Come Home," and "Blanket of Ghosts" are very moving, strong songs and many others are up there as well. Some highlights of the songwriting include the crescendo of "Please Come Home" where Dustin's voice absolutely soars, and the fills and drone organ or "Blanket of Ghosts." It's funny that even when Dustin is trying to play pop, he employs little blues riffs and tones, which render the song a little more interesting and effective than they'd normally be, which speaks to his ability as a songwriter and musician in general.
However, it's not all easy street on Please Come Home
. As much as Dustin enables a lot of his music with his obvious love of white man blues, he also disables a few of these songs. "I Believe" and "Blood and Wine" are painfully cheesy with their midtempo blues strut. Dustin does nothing to escalate the 12-bar blues. This cheesiness is nothing though compared to what Dustin does with his voice. I think my favorite aspect of this album, and really Dustin's presence in Thrice as well, is the power of his voice. I love it when his voice rasps or cracks a little bit because he's singing to strongly, so, when instead of keeping his voice very open and sonorous, he literally compresses his vocal chords to make his timbre a little more tight and trebly a la Bob Dylan, I get very frustrated. In fact, his imitation is uncanny at certain moments, and that straight ruins certain songs on this album. Maybe the only song that is void of this affect is "Please Come Home," which features Dustin's most emotive and honest vocal performance, resulting in his best song on the album.
In the end though, if you can get over the vocal decisions on this album, you're probably going to have a favorable opinion of Please Come Home
. It's really likable for being sensible, expressive singer-songwriter music, but my problem is that the album makes frustrating conceits at certain points. It just doesn't use the blues very well. It taints an otherwise great album. For great shame. In the long run, I'm going to file this album away with Trophy Scars' Goodnight Alchemy
and Set Your Goals' Mutiny!
as albums that have a lot of good and
bad going for them. And, when I look at my stance on those albums, my rating doesn't reflect how much I actually enjoy listening to the music. Mutiny!
may only be a 3/5 but it sure did sneak it's way onto my Top 10 of 2006 list past some albums that are theoretically "better." Hopefully Please Come Home
will haunt me in a similar way. That, or I'll just listen to my awesome Ursus Veritas bootleg of "Madman."