Shad Weathersby

The Beaten Path

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New Orleans singer/songwriter Shad Weathersby might have been expected to address the subject of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of his hometown on his fifth album (and first secular, grownup collection in more than a decade). The subject does come up in "Orleans Rain," the album's fourth track, but only in the sense that the song is about New Orleans' many storms. "Orleans rain will come again," Weathersby notes at the outset. The third track, "Last Lonely YAT," is, according to the singer, "a song for all the displaced people from New Orleans who know a YAT is a local character who uses the colloquial phrase 'Where y'at?'" Or so he says in the press release accompanying review copies of the album. But that is not to say that the displaced people for whom the song was written or anybody else would understand that from the rest of the lyrics necessarily. Weathersby provides other one-sentence explanations for what his songs are about in the press release, warning that they are "just general guidelines." But even if those explanations were included on the CD, listeners might have trouble relating them to the songs. Weathersby's words are impressionistic and poetic, but making literal sense out of them is a challenge. And that challenge is increased by his singing. Although this is an artist who has been in vocal groups since shortly after graduating from college, his voice is a strangled tenor that suffers from frequent pitch problems. He phrases oddly, and his voice breaks at odd points, too. Actually, the best thing about the album is the arranging. Every track boasts a good folk-rock arrangement played by a tight, talented band. Those arrangements suggest a more accessible set of songs than Weathersby provides over the top of them. Instead, this is a self-involved, strained collection that leaves listeners on the outside.

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