Following the breakup of Timbuk 3 and the dissolution of his marriage with musical partner Barbara K., Pat MacDonald signed with Ark 21, a new label founded by the former head of IRS. The resulting record was an eerily intense song cycle that traded Timbuk 3's pop songcraft and wry social commentary for subdued, almost minimalist arrangements and profoundly personal lyrics. Musically, the disc is so low-key that some tracks barely register; the droning, somnambulant melodies of "Smoke" and "Seven" come across as mere vehicles for MacDonald's deft wordplay rather than fully developed songs. MacDonald's low-tuned acoustic guitar and world-weary vocals are at the forefront, sometimes unadorned (as on an illuminating solo version of his Timbuk 3 song "Daddy's Down in the Mine") and elsewhere backed by foot stomps or basic percussion. The whole thing has a foggy, ethereal feel, as if all the sessions had taken place in the hours between midnight and dawn. That shouldn't be taken as a criticism, since it lends a certain weightiness to intimate MacDonald compositions like "You Left Something." And it doesn't hurt that, amid all the darkness, there are occasional moments as accessible as anything MacDonald's previous band recorded; "Thanks for Comin'" and "Like Water" are smart pop tunes that show he could still pen an ear-catching melody and work an irresistible groove. In the end, Sleeps With His Guitar isn't an album that's easy to get into, but its challenges pay off after repeated plays.
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AllMusic Review by Kenneth Bays