STOP AND LISTEN What Connor Garvey hears, and what he plays, is worth your time, and there’s
no use being uptight about it how long it might take to savor every morsel.
Connor Garvey may protest in his “Real Old,” that “Kerouac can keep his blazing roman candles/These momentary explosions of light/I’d rather be what you feel when you see a campfire/With a long, warm beautiful burn,” but it’s hard to be that patient with music these days.
With so much new music available, with so many singer-songwriters self-producing pretty decent records, it’s the spectacular we search for. Why spend any of our ever-more-valuable time listening to the mediocre when the great — the “fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” — is just a click of the mouse away?
Perhaps this question wouldn’t even make sense to Garvey. Like his buddy Putnam Smith, it’s clear he’s something of a throwback, building a life of simple pleasures and connections to the Earth and good friends. The 12 songs on his fifth full-length, Meteors and Beating Hearts, are similarly full of nature references and expansive esoteric thoughts.
How’s this for big picture: “When the Sun’s up the Earth’s a closed eye, the back of the lid is the baby-blue sky/When the world’s asleep only then can you see the stars/And join with all that’s greater than we are.”
That’s from “Insignificance,” which may be a touch too precious if you’re a Mick Jagger type, more interested in what’s on page one than page seventeen.
As a total package, Garvey is something like a cross between Paul Simon and Rufus Wainwright, with a bounce and a smile, but also every now and then a wry turn that makes you pick your head up.
There are some roman candles exploding, too. “Old House” is very strong, with a moody open full of wind whipping through dark corners and “ah-ah” backing vocals from an ever-present Sara Hallie Richardson that’ll get the hairs on the back of your neck up. Producer and guitarist Pete Morse (he’s the answer to the question: “Why does this album often sound like Pete Kilpatrick’s last disc?”) provides dancing electric guitar trills, Dan Boyden booms a bass drum, and Garvey sets the hook with “you can’t build a life on fear.”
“Back up Plan” has legs, too, with a shuffle like Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and a simple narrative about teenage friendship that leads to adult nostalgia and, maybe, regret. In the beginning, “we made a vow/To never let us be lonely,” but by the finish, “we sit in a coffee shop, you, your ring, and me/I am lonely.”
Sometimes it’s more a moment in a song than the whole thing: The poignant delivery of “grateful to be alive” on “Bright Morning” that’s somehow not corny; the interlaced vocals with Richardson as they’re “standing in a field alone” in “Willow”; the pedal steel that arcs behind the spare vocals in “Tattered Shirt” as album finisher. These will grab your attention.
The album probably doesn’t need to be 12 songs long, though. There are times when you might think to yourself that you’ve heard this album a hundred times before, from a hundred different guys with acoustic guitars. The songs often go well on past the four-minute mark. It’s an album that takes its time and feels no compunction to be “tight” or “catchy.”