Pete Nelson

Days Like Horses

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If The Restless Boys' Club was a collection of Pete Nelson short stories, Days Like Horses is an attempt at a novel. The songs, which are identified in the liner notes as "Chapters 1 - 15," tell the story of a doomed relationship and its painful aftermath. Just a glance at the titles is enough to tell you that this is a breakup album: "You Don't Love Me," "We're Not in Love Anymore," "I Love You (So What)," "House of Cards," "After the Party's Over".... Clearly, this is a record with some thematic unity to it. It also has more musical unity than its predecessor, which had as many musical styles as it had characters. Days Like Horses is dominated by piano-based lounge jazz tunes sprinkled with folk instrumentation. It also seems to draw some influence from Broadway musicals, which is appropriate since it is primarily a one-character narrative told in the first person. Of course, first-person one-character narratives about romantic breakups make up about 50 percent of pop music, so it's not entirely surprising that this is a more conventional album in many ways -- novelistic pretensions notwithstanding. There are only a couple of the prose-like pieces that made Restless Boys' Club so distinctive, and though the new story-songs are among the album's best -- particularly "The Ballad of Eddie Gay," a funny and poignant tale about a cross-dressing comedy writer -- they seem an uneasy fit with the "novel" format. Days Like Horses also features guest vocal performances from Dar Williams, Peter Mulvey, Patty Larkin, and Susan Werner, but their talents seem underused. For the most part, the guests just sing chorus melodies along with Nelson, who doesn't seem to have much of a taste for harmony. That sense of unrealized great potential plagues the whole album. It may be, as it claims, "a novel in 15 songs," but it's a fragmented and strained novel with only fitful moments of great lucidity.

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