Fringeland, by nature, might describe a place in which garments are expected to be tattered, windows don't shut all the way, and songs aren't exactly perfect. It might be a state of mind, too much time spent concentrating on subjects of interest only to a few weirdos. As the title of a collection of songs such as this it is extremely evocative, since many of the songs deal with themes of universal, not fringe, experience, desires, and events. Once again, Bruce Piephoff packs it in with nearly two dozen different tracks, each an observation of some sort in which a scarcity of detail is rarely a problem. His voice sometimes sounds a bit pinched in a production done with almost overwhelming finesse. This time out Piephoff co-produced the venture with Doug Rorrer, a guitarist and bassist who performs on several of his releases. Eight musicians with nearly twice as many instruments at their disposal take on the material, the recording deep and without the slightest hint of contrived production horseplay. Vocal harmonies are used often, including a rare appearance on recording of Greensboro performer and songwriter Dakota Joe. Beginning with the light "Norfolk Girl," Piephoff shows he isn't averse to easing into things slowly; "A Hobo, He Don't Like No Snow" goes into a holding pattern, the distorted guitar punching up a theme that is a bit too easy. Then again, this is "fringeland," where one isn't allowed to give up singing about hobos. "The Wind From Newport News" is just devastating, a perfect example of what makes for a good new folk song. It sounds like something one has heard millions of times before. In fact, this comment has been made many times as well, about many songs. This is one of them, so it deserves to get that comment along with the rest of them. "Folk Highway" comes along a few minutes later to drum in the point, switching between folk music and just plain folks repeatedly, and without breaking a sweat. "Sidetrack Killer" is another classic, a solid contribution to the country murder song with a body count to rival them all. Fringeland has an average number, for a Piephoff release, of tracks that fizzle rather than sizzle, sometimes because a nice roots groove plus lyrics of no real distinction, such as "Marvalene," inevitably is a bit like too many ashes on the flame. This appraisal is being written following the horrifying six-day power blackout in North Carolina, circa 2002, so the words are backed by experience.
"Big in Slovenia" is an example of song that, although amusing, is also just depressing. Part of the problem may be wondering how serious the singer is being, whether he realizes that being played in college radio in Slovenia wouldn't make him big over there any more than it would in the United States. When this CD was released, most of the listening audience in Slovenia was most likely grooving to whatever was popular everywhere else in the world that year, and it sure wasn't Bruce Piephoff. It wouldn't be beyond him to be making fun of himself, however. A nice touch involving the short tracks of poetry recitation is banjo accompaniment from Wayne Seymour; this is a great idea, and an idea for a whole album of material that would come out sounding different than anything this artist has ever recorded.