Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Robert Sarazin Blake's Put It All Down in a Letter on CD

"The truth of the matter is, I sleep on a lot of dirty couches. And when I wake up, I don't always feel good. I don't always feel like making a phone call. So I didn't call you."

Robert Sarazin Blake may be the closest thing we have to a beat poet in the 21st century. Whether you care for his style of folk music will probably depend on how you feel about his extraordinarily dry delivery and his forced vibrato. Like Dylan and Phil Ochs and many others, Blake isn't interested in fulfilling your expectations when it comes to singers. He's producing a vibe, an attitude that's all his own. Judging from the musical company he keeps, this Pacific Northwestern performer garners a lot of respect, and if you haven't heard of him yet you probably should.

I first heard Robert Sarazin Blake when I reviewed his album The Air Your Lungs Forced Out a couple of years ago--which I loved and considered one of the year's best. His tenth album, Put It All Down in a Letter, is a bit of a departure for Blake: "After ten albums and 2000+ gigs in nine countries, I've decided it's time to graduate from selling my albums out of my suitcase to sending my album to national radio and into the ears of the great American night." Recorded in a single all-night session at Minor Street Studios in Philadelphia, Srazin recorded the new album with a local band named the Powderkegs and was joined later in the evening by guitarist Jefferson Hamer (Great American Taxi). Once laid down on wax--or whatever they make CDs from these days--he started touring local radio stations and playing PIADIAL for the lonely, late-night radio hounds.

In the true spirit of the Beat Generation, the album features two extended "rambles" that feature Blake's stream-of-consciousness tales about the City of Brotherly Love. In the first sojourn, "I Didn't Call You From Philadelphia," Blake spends nearly seventeen minutes explaining to a loved one why he didn't call. Supported by a simple three-note riff, he offers a variety of excuses that range from his hatred of cell phones to the fact that George W. Bush was elected twice, and even though Obama is now President "we still have a long way to go." As good as Obama is, Blake surmises, he can't make us good. Finally, Blake comes clean with the quote above; a lot of people are evidently concerned with him sleeping on dirty couches.

From there, Blake's songs remain topical in the best folk traditions. In "Tiger Woods Boom Boom" he draws a connection to the golfer's infidelities to the housing crisis and concludes, "We were so titillated by his fall/He was very, very, very, very good at hitting a little ball." In "Planned Parenthood Waiting Room" he describes his ordeal is he is treated for some unknown malady, only to be scolded by the nurse that if he just wore a condom, he wouldn't have to keep coming back. I'm sure Blake had no idea just how topical the subject of contraception would become in 2012 when he recorded this album back in 2010.

The second extended jam, which is far more turbulent and troubling than the first, speaks more directly to me. "Magic Hour on Baltimore Ave" spends almost 13 minutes following a record hound through Philadelphia as he writes a love letter and then wonders if he should mail it or not--the words "put the letter in the mail maybe not" echo as Blake strums ever more furiously on his 1977 Martin D-35.

What permeates the entire album, however, is Blake's wry sense of humor, his slightly apologetic phrasing which for some reason reminds me of Louis C.K.'s stand-up comedy with far less raunch--even when he discusses objects inserted into his urethra during his visit to the clinic. This CD was a happy surprise in my mailbox--I wasn't expecting it and I think the record label found my old review and put me on the same list as the radio DJs--and I hope more people discover this guy and support him on his neverending tours through Philadelphia and whatever city you call your hometown. If you choose not to investigate this singular talent, don't say I didn't call you and tell you about it.

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