Sunday, January 29, 2012

Looking For A Place to Live / Bill Demain

God forbid this should happen to any of us. But it happened to Bill Demain: a devastating flood washed out his condo in Nashville, only to be followed a few months later by a second tragedy, a house fire that wiped him out completely. For more than a year he lived out of a suitcase, in limbo, waiting to find a new home.  Now, Bill's not your average homeless person. He's a fairly successful singer-songwriter, not only as one-half of the duo Swan Dive, but also as a songwriter who's collaborated with the likes of Jill Sobule, Bill Lloyd, and Marshall Crenshaw. On top of that, he's a well-respected music journalist, writing for mags like MOJO and Classic Rock. Which just underscores that a misfortune like this could befall anybody.

But as luck would have it, this homeless period had a silver lining; it inspired Bill to write a collection of songs that he has now released as his first solo EP.  And -- no surprise -- it's a truly winning album, offering an eclectic range of pop styles, well-crafted lyrics, and charming vocal performance. More than that: it's got heart.  When you think about it, that only makes sense -- that a brush with tragedy would call out wistfulness, nostalgia, soul-searching, and mordant humor.

I'm going for the lead-off track here, although you really must check out the entire album (it's finally up on iTunes and Amazon's mp3 store now; or you could order your very own copy here).  And why not? "Looking For A Place To Live" kinda says it all, doesn't it?

Acoustic folk seems just the right style for a displaced troubador; it's as if he hasn't got much but his guitar case to lug around (one of the few things Bill had time to grab when fleeing the fire was his 1937 Martin). That gentle rambling strum is perfect pavement-pounding music. But leave it to Bill to face his dilemma with wry humor: "I know how Columbus felt / Sailing round in circles / His coffee in a cardboard cup / And the Sunday classifieds." That sense of being an explorer -- that's probably the only way to face house-hunting and still stay sane.  And if, along the way, you gain some sympathy with the dispossessed of this world ("Out with the refugees / Dreaming of vacancies / For what seems eternities...") -- well, that's a good thing, too.

Of course, good songwriting never stops with the obvious.  In the process, he comes to understand what's really important:  "Maybe home is nothing more / Than where you hang your hat." I like the fact that this song works even if you don't know Bill's story: maybe it's just about a young couple searching for a place to move in together, or maybe it's about a guy being thrown out by his girlfriend / wife and having to find himself a new lonely bachelor pad.

What matters is the wistfulness, the existential sense of dislocation. (Does anybody else hear a bit of Bookends-era Simon and Garfunkel here?) It's a song that treads lightly and takes nothing for granted.  A song about stripping your life down to essentials.  So self-effacing, so artlessly charming -- and so haunting.  In a good way.


Anonymous said...

I know you're focusing on contemporary music these days, perhaps with an eye to acquiring a steady gig reviewing somewhere, but any chance you might consider a second series of '100 Best Singles' sometime?

Holly A Hughes said...

You're giving me credit for a lot more of an agenda than I've got! This blog really is random. When I was thinking about buying CDs as holiday gifts, I got into a new-music mode for a while, but believe me, I'll be back to the vintage stuff soon enough.

OTOH -- the new stuff that appeals to me often does so because it has its roots in the classic pop I grew up listening to. Nikki Jean actually wrote those songs with the songwriting legends responsible for that music; Bill Demain's EP has the same sort of accessible classic pop sound. Don't worry, I won't be writing about hip-hop or electronica anytime soon.

A paying gig reviewing records? Dream on....

NickS said...

I've said this before, but the "100 Singles" series was a really impressive blog-project. I'm still impressed that you actually did it, that's just a ton of work (I'm also impressed that you have actually bought 100 singles. But I realize that my music buying habit really started after CDs were an established format, so I've tended to accumulate re-issues and greatest hits compilations rather than singles).

Thanks for letting me know about the EP. It sounds interesting, though I have to admit that the sample song is more pop than what I was expecting/hoping for from your description. But I'll try to remember to listen to it again closer to when the CD is coming out to tempt myself to get a copy. It's certainly a good story.

Anonymous said...

I ended up with a bunch of cassettes of Bill Demain's early material...high school bands, etc., after his parents moved.
Talented guy. Swan Dive did some decent music and became big stars in Japan and Korea...appeared on Conan once too.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Yes, the mmm-mmm-HMMM-mmmm part ahead of the "looking for a place to live" chorus -- it's way Bookendsish ... I still love that S&G sound.