Throughout his career, singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer Paul Burch has never paid much mind to stylistic boundaries. Over ten previous long-players and several film scores, Burch has roamed across everything from Western swing, rockabilly, blues, and countrypolitan to Caribbean, calypso, early jazz, and the golden era of American pop (the '30s and 40s). On Light Sensitive, he's accompanied by his savvy WPA Ballclub, an all-star configuration that includes upright bassist and co-producer Dennis Crouch, multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, pianists Jen Gunderman and Heather Moulder, saxophonist and clarinetist Chloe Feoranzo, and Justin Amaral on drums. Burch's idea for Light Sensitive arrived while he was in Oxford, Mississippi after he was commissioned to research, write, and record an audio portrait of the life of Southern raconteur and bon vivant Eugene Walter. Burch was turned on by the idea of a terminal outsider so immersed in his obsessive life that he had no concern for things outside it.
On Light Sensitive, Burch & the WPA Ballclub, along with several high-profile guests, touch on roots styles ranging from rockabilly and country boogie to singalong folk songs, Delta and West Coast blues, and swing (the latter also encompasses the rhythms of mambo and rhumba). Opener "Love Came Back" offers popping tom-tom rhythms, distorted six-string rockabilly reverbed guitars, and bluesy saxophone, with Burch's and Carey Kotsionis' entwined duet voices. "Mardi Gras in Mobile" -- a nod to the Walter project -- weds Caribbean calypso rhythms and early second line and swing complete with reeds and winds. "Jean Garrique" is a morning-after jazz tune with gorgeous piano and tenor sax fills. "Fool About Me" is a laid-back boogie with slide guitars courtesy of Luther Dickinson. "Marisol" is a devastatingly beautiful folk-jazz waltz with poignant lyrics determined to heal the broken heart of its subject. It's framed in strummed and fingerpicked acoustic guitars, Kaplin's viola, Gunderman's upright piano, Crouch's booming upright, and Burch on Wurlitzer and brushed drums. The tune could be an outtake from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; Burch even apes his phrasing in the vocal. "Prince Ali's Fortune Telling Book of Dreams" weds a rockabilly shuffle to rhumba with Andrews Sisters'-style backing vocals from Amy Rigby and Kotsionis. Psychedelic country with fuzzed-out guitars (a la Mickey Newbury's early records) are the hub on which "On My Flight to Spain" turns. "You Must Love Someone" is a clear throwback to the Patsy Cline era of exotic country-pop, with Kaplin on Hawaiian steel guitars and Gunderman on piano. In "23rd Field Artillery Punch," swing and jump blues entwine with a killer tenor sax break and Burch reciting hopped-up poetry in one section. Closer "Boogie Back" is an early rock & roll stroller with sax, guitars, and pumping piano. Light Sensitive finds Burch & the WPA Ballclub in full command. The bright, warm production in these beautifully written and arranged songs, combined with the band's seamless juxtaposition and articulation of various styles, push this inspired album to coexist with Burch's very best efforts such as 2000's Blue Notes, 2003's Fool for Love, and 2009's Still Your Man. Light Sensitive is essential Burch.