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Building a Life Review from Buzz McClain

Apr. 19, 2009

Building a Life

Silky Dave

By Buzz McClain

Years ago David Ensor – aka Silky Dave – was told by major record labels that he was trying to do too much in his music. They scratched their heads at his combination of rock, blues, country and pop, unable to figure out which bin in the record store (remember them) they could pigeonhole him.

The would-be actor-musician left Los Angeles in 1990 to return to his home area of Washington, D.C., where, years on, he makes a living performing and teaching guitar albeit “under suspicion,” as he says, instead of “under the radar.”

These days Silky Dave’s category is easier to quantify. He’s still combining his favorite elements from various genres, but Adult Contemporary just about does it. There’s measures of pop and jazz, rock and blues, blues and pop, and an overarching taste of Americana shot through it all, particularly in the twangy “Simple Life.”

“Simple Life” is the disc’s most resonant cut, bringing to bear all of Silky Dave’s strengths, from the smart use of putting Mike McCracken’s bluesy dobro on top of the mix to the lyrical content, which keeps to the theme of the 11-cut collection.

That theme, by the way, seems to be about a wistful yet cynical man nearing middle age and confronting a troubled world and an uncertain future – or resigning himself to living in “Middle Class,” the spare, country-flavored and lyrically honest cut that “Simple Life” melts into.

The theme is hammered home in “This Town Is Breaking My Heart,” which borrows the very Randy Newman-esque idea of painting over a wrenching scene – a homeless man amid a juvenile street gang – with a jazzy piano score. The tune builds nicely on the riff and successfully drives home the sentiment.

“Mama Wants to Know” addresses the concept of failure as the singer sends a message to the titular mother that he is indeed all right – begging the question, why did she have to ask in the first place? By the time we get to the gospel-like all-in finale we still wonder.

That dobro shows up again on “Nine Out of Ten,” a sweet-natured love song that works around the line, “If I had 10 thoughts today, baby, nine were of you.” The great Mary Ann Redmond sings harmony, at times haunting the song like the lover the singer is pining for.

The one true anthem in the collection is “We Need All Your Stars,” a call to arms summarized in the line “When you planet’s crying, there’s no time to fight, we need all your stars out tonight.” Built on a simple acoustic guitar figure, the song builds in the mind and rises in the heart. The video, available on YouTube, showcases the song to terrific effect.

Mike Jarvis’ bass does the heavy lifting early on in “The Dream,” setting the sinister tone for the disc’s most deliberately chaotic cut. “Forty years later, when is the dream going to start?” Is it an end-of-the-world warning or that middle aged man wondering what’s happened to his life?

“Building a Life” is a collection of mature numbers, without the sort of excess or recklessness that comes when one is emboldened by paying for the studio himself. The songs are sharply focused and, a rarity, sequenced in such a way as to make an impact on those paying attention to the premise.

— Buzz McClain

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