Nathan Moore is the main singer and songwriter for the cryptically named rock band Surprise Me Mr. Davis. Their blend of rock, folk, country, and electronic influences makes them hard to pin down, but Moore's lyrics hold the band's diverse arrangements together with their finely crafted wordplay. On his solo albums, Moore gives free rein to the folksy singer/songwriter side of his personality. There's a bit of electric guitar, bass, and drums on Dear Puppeteer, but the listener's attention is captured by Moore and his voice, and his amazing lyrical talent. The arrangements here are unobtrusive, and while they cover enough ground to keep things musically interesting, it's Moore's masterful wordplay that impresses the most. "The Garden" is a brief, poignant blues tune with guitar and vocals processed to sound like an old Victor cylinder recording, but the lyric is a lot more poetic and existential than anything a '20s Delta singer would have written. Twangy acoustic guitar and ghostly harmonica highlight "Can't Fly to Heaven," a meditation on the fear of mortality that's full of dark humor. "Like a Cartoon" extends the metaphor of being a cartoon character for three verses full of poignant, ironic humor, with Moore's somber vocal adding emotional impact to the lyrics. "In the Basement" is full of the bleak overblown images that Leonard Cohen is so good at, striking the perfect balance between grim reality and extravagant baleful humor. "I'm Good Company" is more musically uptempo, recorded live with a crowd of fans that joins in on the chorus, but lyrically it's just as hopeless and wry as the rest of the tunes on the album. The guitar has a banjo-like tone on "When My Time Comes," another meditation on mortality that sounds like a hundred-year-old Appalachian dirge. The songs on Dear Puppeteer can measure up to the best of Leonard Cohen, Greg Brown, Nick Drake, and Gillian Welch. It's hard to understand why he remains relatively unknown.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet