Butterfly Child

Soft Explosives

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The third Butterfly Child was at once a radical change from the band's past and a wonderful continuation of the artistic themes and sounds Cassidy had established with his series of fascinating releases in the U.K. Having moved to Chicago following an initial visit and recording session, he ceased working with the band he had assembled in favor of a new core of musicians, notably bassist Nick Marci and guitarist Greg Suran, along with a rotating number of drummers and various string and horn performers. The resulting album was a new masterpiece of sweeping drama, even more so on than on previous releases; if things were a touch more conventional this time out, it was only a touch, while the sheer appeal of songs, performance, and lyrics held together as always. Cassidy's acoustic guitar/vocal approach remains at the center of his work, but various hitherto-unexplored arrangements and approaches contribute to Soft Explosives' variety. "Holy Hymn," for example, has both the hushed power such a title would imply and a not-bad soul/funk feeling to it -- credit Greg Suran for both his light wah-wah guitar and striking piano work. "Life Without the Compass" is another surprise, the closest Joe Cassidy has ever gotten to heavy-duty, balls-out rock. The big contrast, without question, is the tone of many of the lyrics -- if The Honeymoon Suite was about the joys of love, Soft Explosives documents the pains. The words to songs like "Don't Talk to Me" -- "Go wrap your voice round someone else's lifeline" -- and "The Sound of Love Breaking Apart," to name just two examples, dig deep when it comes to emotional issues and betrayal. Such is Cassidy's talent, though, that like any number of logical artistic forebears, from Brian Wilson to Nick Drake, heartache rarely sounds so beautiful. "Number One," for all its choking sadness, is sung with heartfelt, serene passion, and the string arrangement is to die for.

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