Neal Casal

Leaving Traces: Songs 1994-2004

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This extensive 18 track, nearly 80-minute compilation is an excellent and much needed summary of the plaintive singer/songwriter's rather turbulent career. An American who is much better known in Europe, Casal's eight albums and EPs over the titular decade show glimpses of brilliance amidst material slightly less stellar. In other words, his output is inconsistent, which makes this a perfect entry point for those who haven't tuned in previously. Possessing a lovely, lilting tenor voice -- at times sounding like Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook -- Casal is often compared to Jackson Browne and Neil Young due to introspective songs similar to the former ("Free Light of Day") and the ability to rock out when necessary with layered guitars ("Eddy & Diamonds") of the latter. There is an ease of performance here that transcends time, making these folk-country-rock songs sound effortless and natural. Even though they were recorded over a ten-year period, the album's non-chronological sequencing makes this feel like a seamless recording. The classy and thoughtfully laid-out 24-page book fills in Casal's back history, detailing his story through quotes from the artist and a meticulous track listing that includes all sidemen and lyrics to the songs. The end result is the portrait of a performer who, due to the usual bad business breaks, should be a much better-known quantity, at least in America. The album loses a little steam in its final third with a few too many ballads programmed back to back, but the songwriting and performance quality is so consistently resilient that this is a minor complaint. A second DVD included in some versions of the package features a documentary along with demos and live tracks. It further enhances this near definitive overview of an artist that has, unfortunately, fallen through the cracks. An obscure find well-worth searching out.

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