Richard Shindell

Not Far Now

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On Not Far Now, his first album of mostly new original songs in five years, Richard Shindell continues to write and perform musical short stories that examine the lives of society's outcasts in terms of political and spiritual hierarchies. In the leadoff song, "Parasol Ants," a thief lies on the ground only to discover that, as far as the ants marching by are concerned, he is God, able to scatter them easily. It's a good introduction to Shindell's other character studies, which include the perspective of "A Juggler Out in Traffic"; a woman who sells food to workers ("Mariana's Table"); a junkie trying and failing to kick the habit ("State of the Union"); a man in Roman times egging on his mule ("Get Up Clara"); and a lonely man on a balcony identifying with a "Balloon Man" he sees below him on the street. Frequently, Shindell is concerned with perspective, with one character looking at another. The image of President George W. Bush giving his State of the Union speech looms over the junkie in "State of the Union." In "Bye Bye," the songwriter himself attempts a sequel to the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," but finds he can't do it: "I could bring her back to them/But that's not how the story ends." In "Gethsemani Goodbye," the narrator describes his failure to find the monastery in Kentucky where the famed monk and author Thomas Merton once lived. Thus, to Shindell, the personal always seems to have political and/or religious implications, but those associations never seem to help. There are no happy endings, but really, there are no endings at all. The songwriter simply provides precise, closely observed descriptions of the characters and their circumstances, and then moves on. He sings the songs sensitively, often using the upper register of his low-tenor/high-baritone voice over restrained folk-rock arrangements. Not Far Now is a subtle, low-key collection of musical portraits in miniature, which makes it consistent with the rest of Shindell's repertoire.

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