There is an unwritten rule known to the various gatekeepers of the music business, be they A&R people, booking agents, or even critics: given the chance to audition or make a demo tape, songwriters almost invariably will present their worst songs, leaving their best ones to the end or not playing them at all unless coaxed. It is unclear whether songwriters just tend to be terrible judges of their own material or they think their more conventional material is more likely to further their careers; maybe it's a little of both. This observation comes to mind with regard to Steve Poltz's album Unraveling. Poltz recorded 22 songs, which he divided into two albums, Traveling, released to retail, and Unraveling, implied to be a collection of also-rans from the sessions, to be sold only at his gigs. (In fact, all 22 songs could have fit on one 75-minute CD.) Of course, Unraveling is by far the superior collection. Much of the reason for this is that Poltz is a witty, idiosyncratic writer, and the songs on Unraveling are ones on which he has let his imagination run wilder than usual. From the opening rocker, the socially conscious "Bombs" to "Tied Down," an account of a jealous lover's murder of his adulterous partner, and on to "Light in Your Eyes," which has an entire verse about watching a monkey pull someone's tooth in Morocco, Unraveling is full of songs with closely observed, individual details and bizarre, delightful descriptions. Traveling also has some excellent songs and is worth hearing, but Unraveling, the album the songwriter seems less confident in showing to the public, is actually the one to hear.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann