Written by: Dave Cantrell
Irascibly savvy, a versatile, virtuosic musician that can seem both mad as a radish and as serious as Beethoven’s little hippie brother within the length of a single measure, Chandler Travis is one of those artists that, by natural inclination, operates inside that twinkling sphere of inspiration populated by but a select few fellow travelers, not least Duplex Planeteer David Greenberger (with whom he has long collaborated, seek out the redoubtable Bocce & Bourbon collection if you’ve not already) and such otherwise peerless rock raconteurs as our recently dear (and far too soon) departed Ralph Carney. None of which is to suggest that the guy tends toward the gratuitously bonkers – far from it, in fact; what one hears in Travis’ many works is a foundation firmly, if rather doubly, rooted in a combo of New England coffeehouse culture and a deep working knowledge of the American songbook – but rather is someone that is adroit and well-versed enough to fit his prodigiously specific talents to whatever form his restless muse commands. With Backward, Crooked From the Sunset (released today, May 25th on Iddy Biddy) the Three-O, a stripped back version of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic (the bandleader joined by bowing bassist John Clark and Berke McKelvey bringing keys and woodwinds), the assignment appears to have been to create a jukebox playlist whereon all the flavors of our collective pop consciousness – blues jazz folkish chamber pop, you know the spread – are succinctly, savoringly, presented in what might be described as a feast of splendid restraint. We could provide you with brief synopses, briefly detailing, for instance, how the shruggingly fatalistic title track answers any wonders we might have had about what Paul Simon writing a jaunty, clarinet-shadowed song for Jerry Jeff Walker might sound like, or, since we’re speaking of defying mortality, how the brightly plodding meta-existentialism of “Disappointment,” a tastily dark, momentarily baroque ditty, is well enough aware of itself to know that its tongue isn’t so much in cheek as in check. And of course we’d have to bring up the ‘Man in Buddy Holly Black’ irresistibility of “All the Little Things” but no, going down that road would just be plain unfair, robbing you as it would of experiencing first hand (first ear?) this casually rich, often humorous, more often poignant gambol down Chandler Travis Avenue, where the specters of Randy Newman Carole King Bob Dylan Irving Berlin the abovementioned and many more loiter with intent in every doorway. If nothing else – and one could continue, conjuring a cascade of accolades until the Cowsills come home – the work on Backward proves that an understated tour-de-force is arguably more impactful than the full-on brouhaha. If you value song, listen and rejoice (not that you’ll really have much choice).