Love Is Red
Much of Love Is Red will sound familiar, if you’ve followed the career of New York singer/songwriter David Poe. It’s not just that the ultra-smooth vocals and jazz-folk-pop styling he’s become known for are in evidence. The record includes three songs that were on Poe’s T-Bone Burnett-produced, eponymous debut and two songs that showed up on his 2002 follow-up, The Late Album. For album number three, Poe, along with sidemen Sim Cain (drums) and John Abbey (bass), went into a Berlin studio housed in an underground bunker to re-record those songs, along with four previously unreleased tunes and a cover of a Tim Hardin number. The effect is to convey the arc of a typical live set, but without the rowdy crowd and clinking of beer bottles.
Opener “You’re the Bomb” displays Poe’s wiseass sense of humor, set against a great lazy Sunday afternoon vibe. Poe sounds a bit like Sting in jazzbo mode, but without the pretentious self-importance. “You’re the bomb, they made you up in secret,” he sings, tongue metaphorically in cheek. “You’re my Manhattan Project/Without warning, without a sound, you hit the ground.” Cain and Abbey provide understated backing.
One of the new songs here, “So Beautiful,” is a terrific low-key, bittersweet pop tune. The combo gets more experimental on the slightly creepy, enigmatic “Wilderness.” “History’s whore will win the war/And tell the story to her child,” Poe sings. “The national jones will kick the stones/And eat its way into the wild.” “Reunion” provides a more familiar scenario, as he follows a girlfriend home to meet the (dysfunctional) family. The tune, originally on his debut, is one of Poe’s best, with a pretty acoustic guitar figure. “Doxology” almost suggests a sequel to “Reunion,” with a trip home for Christmas reminding him of the girlfriends he left behind. “‘Cause every love I’ve ever had has ended in disaster,” he laments.
Poe offers one of his most beautiful metaphors and prettiest melodies on “Moon”: “She liked to see herself as the sun/Later she made me into the moon/It sounded fine to me/Who wouldn’t want to be illuminating lovers or controlling the sea/Who wouldn’t want to be the moon.” The way laid-back groove of “Love Won’t Last the Afternoon” (originally from The Late Album) documents the telling details of the end of a relationship. “In a dark room/Where you shot your last roll/Color blurs/Honey can’t you see/How you drove me from your dark room into hers,” Poe sings.
Love Is Red may just be a stopgap on the road to whatever’s next for Poe. But it is an effective showcase for his terrific songs (at least the non-rocking side of his canon) and whispery croon. And as such, it’s both a nifty treat for fans and a solid introduction for newcomers.
David Poe: www.davidpoe.com