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Review: Small Songs – One After Another, After Another, After Another

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by Richard Sanford on July 16, 2019

One After Another, After Another, After Another, the sophomore studio release from saxophonist-composer Alex Burgoyne’s band Small Songs (available for purchase on Bandcamp and from Burgoyne at shows) comes on with the sticky heat and mix of sweet comfort and ominous dread perfect for those days when summer takes flight. Continue reading for more thoughts, streaming songs, and video.

These artfully crafted and rough-hewn miniatures echo the title in the sense repetition can be a mind struggling and stuck but more often they shine their light on the meditative quality of those words: repetition qua mantras,  pointing a way out and forward. 

One After Another, After Another, After Another brims with 1:30 a.m. reckonings. “Things Fall Down” features organ-like guitar from Andrew Sais surging under and through a chilling Devin Copfer vocal. “We build a new life. We grow our family,” Copfer sings, setting up the fault lines before her next line, “Except things fall down,” brings a tumbling crash from Dan DiPiero’s drums, busting a hole in the wall for the shuddering, wounded sax from Burgoyne. Copfer’s voice soars off of a blanket of warm drones on “It’s a Little Late, But I’m Sorry,” and somersaults through the earworm-rich and ornate saloon-tempo camaraderie on the rest of the track. She lands lines like “We’re all going to evolve and change, just hope the ones you love go through the growing pains with you,” like a benediction and an acknowledgment that not everyone does.

Befitting a composer who drew from his haiku blog for some lyrics, nature is all over this album. “Where is Winter” pairs a conversational lyric “It’s December, but we’re better,” with washes of instrumental color, reminiscent of Paul Motian’s more pastoral moments, painting expansive landscapes by finding deep nuance in each brushstroke. “That Dark Storm” builds into a rumbling, roiling fury, with some of the most abstract playing from the group, led by a furious and tightly coiled Burgoyne solo.

The empathy and restless imaginations of these five players never let the snapshot qualities of these songs turn monochromatic, diversity and bright colors lurk around every turn. Saishooky, haunting guitar and the swaggering rhythm section of Josh Bryant’s bass and DiPiero’s drums ground “Nothing at All” in rock-and-roll terrain. Burgoyne brings the ‘60s smoke-filled snarl and Copfer’s voice making the most out of breaking lines – and thoughts – into simultaneously a clear-eyed assessment and a vicious takedown, “Sometimes we spend so much on nothing at all.” “Spinning” features a circular guitar pattern that would make Bill Frisell smile and an uncanny melding of Burgoyne’s rich sax tone and Copfer’s voice, finding surprises in every gesture and turn.

Burgoyne and company have crafted an album as expressive as it is hard to fully grasp, brimming with hooks without ever needing to underline them. It’s a remarkable record that reveals itself over time and blossoms in the light of attention.

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