Steven Delopoulos is founder and frontman of the quirky yet inspired late Burlap to Cashmere. On Me Died Blue, the first release from Eb + Flo, producer Monroe Jones' new label, he steps out on his own with a singer/songwriter album that should make his East Coast peers take notice. In fact, perhaps these folks should reexamine their motives for having that vocation. Hearing a record like this makes the listener realize that there are those who create from inspiration, a fierce devotion to excellence in craft, and a searing emotional honesty for the material to ring true. This happens while others, more well-known and perhaps jaded by time, too much or too little success, personal excesses, or boredom, just go through the motions and record album after album of literate but uninspired and predictable tomes about all the safe topics, leaving story and symbol to spirit away on the winds of history. The East Coast singer/songwriter scene has been in a creative stasis for a long time. Its most promising newcomer was Patty Griffin, but she moved to Texas. Simply put, people in this profession, and fanatic music fans in general, seldom get a debut album like this, where something so clean, genuine, artful, and inspired by greatness comes and falls in front of them. Delopoulos made a name for his band with his oddly off-center melodic structures that borrowed as heavily from his beloved traditional Greek folk music as from musical theater and the American singer/songwriter tradition as it came down from people like Harry Chapin, Fred Neil, David Ackles, Harry Nilsson, and others.
Me Died Blue is a dramatic, animated collection of tunes in the grand tradition of American storytelling and songwriting that borrows from various musical traditions, from the theater and cabarets and the ephemera of dying or dead popular culture -- aka history. The title track, with its wildly strummed guitars, balalaikas, and chanted choruses, offers a view of the song as an experience contributed to from many external sources and purified through an individual's vision. The inhabitants of the words welcome the listener to join not only the story as told, but as it continues. On "Here I Go Again," with its beautiful accordion lines and strings, a shimmering series of jazz chords comes slipping through underneath Delopoulos' voice -- which has a faint resemblance to Joe Henry's -- where pondering is reported as the various actions one takes while in deep thought. The track sounds melancholy, but it is actually a prayer to the Muse; it asks, no, pleads for deliverance from the ordinary. "Another Day," the album's opener, enters with a faint, shimmering keyboard before Delopoulos' nimble fingerpicking -- think Dave Van Ronk, Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie, and early Dylan's tradition -- covers it over. But a ghost enters in the lyric; it is Chapin's as he observes life in the process of being lived either as life or as existence via the stunning hooky complexity of Delopoulos' melody and singing voice. His characters, first and third person, have no time for false parades and tinny shining surfaces. These people are marked by brokenness, lost dignity, and unfulfilled dreams; they are fearful of what is to come, yet are unrepentant for the past as the refrain comes from all of them simultaneously: "Another day, another day/Where dreams they're not so far away/Where seeds they grow to land and branch/Harmonies and second chance." This track is an anthem in the same way Martina McBride's "Independence Day" or Robert Frank's classic book of photographs The Americans is. It speaks from the seemingly (and self-acknowledged) insignificant personal view out into the world of many as a way of belonging, as a way of asking for shared experience, simply because in it one comes into being.
Me Died Blue is a thoroughly modern record that uses the past as a way of investigating the present. Rock, folk, and country touches and pop hooks are used as way of getting the depth in this material across in the same way Paul Simon in his best material used Tin Pan Alley New York of the 1940s and '50s. Delopoulos charts a terrain of cracks, dead-end leads, broken spirits, mysterious sights and sounds, and whispered truths from the mouths of the least likely personages. Together they make up a crazy map of beauty, tragedy, and drama. His songs express simple truths in refracted ways and complex truths are revealed as quandaries that change lives. In sum, Delopoulos' musical terrain is where the song becomes the story itself, which in turn is truly worthy of the timelessness of song. Brilliant, Me Died Blue comes from a heart broken enough to be tough and wily, and as a result open and tender enough to say: "This is the door, come inside, that I may come out to meet you and sing."