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New Hope And Wise Virgins
Casanovas Waltz Adam & Eve On A Raft
Being an old fart ainít so bad. Sometimes it means you get to live long enough to see a life of devotion to craftsmanship bloom into art. Sometimes you get to see a lifetime of struggle flower into wisdom. You get to watch an old friend find the jewel that is in the lotus.
Peter Spencer has become a jeweler and his CD, New Hope and Wise Virgins, is a gem.
Peter writes like a wise old man. The characters in his songs have fallen or been beaten down and have found the strength or courage or orneriness to get up and keep going. Some even fall in love. There are 13 sweet and sour cuts on this CD. The one thatís not by Peter is by Hoagy Charmichel. Mr. Spencerís musical poetics are so fine that Hoagyís Hong Kong Blues fits right in.
Spencerís effortless melding of traditional elements and personal insight are the epitome of the modern singer-songwriterís craft. From the mescal cum literary vision of With Bierce in Mexico to the twisted Appalachian roots of Hard Times Peter shows an easy and natural grasp of Americaís old and young cultures. Spencerís lyrics ride his elegant melodies like sturdy craft on deep water. These are great, rich tunes that beg to be sung.
While most of the songs are finely drawn studies of character or situation, Peter also pulls off the near impossible and writes a couple of clichť free love songs. Adam and Eve on a Raft reflects the sunny eros of seasoned lovers. Godzilla Feet on the other hand (or foot) whimsically recalls the blushing disbelief at loveís surprise appearance. Wow, grown up romance in a modern love song.
I used to run with Peter Spencer. When this disc showed up on my desk, I hadnít talked to or heard from or heard about Peter in something like 15 years. In those days, he was a serious student of acoustic finger picking guitar styles. Peter was listening to and imitating everyone from Lightniní Hopkins to Davey Graham; from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Tampa Red to Merle Travis to Stefan Grossman to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and everyone in between. He has emerged a powerful guitarist. His unique style is broadly sophisticated; well schooled without ever being academic. Spencerís smooth, fluid picking is rooted in the blues and ragtime, syncopated and swinging; never flashy and always the exact tensile strength to support the song.
Back then Peter was a great mimic. He could sing a blues in the strangled Delta moan of Skip James or the big blue shout of Jimmy Rushing. He could honk out a country standard or cry a mountain ballad with the best of them. That was craft. Since then his voice has grown full and resonant, sweet and sad, strong and smart, tender, tough and tuneful. His singing is natural and effortless. His voice is an agile dancer with melody in its arms. Craft has become art.
This a thoroughly satisfying record. The second cut, Casanovaís Waltz is a great example of why. In this perfect little pearl of a song the dissipated and exiled rascal reflects:
Once I had money and lovers. Once I had teeth in my jaw.
But why have adventures except when youíre old
To tell stories that fill your companions with awe
These songs are the result of the adventures, real and imagined, that add up to a full life. Mature love and the accretion of knowledge, aged in the cask of experience, have produced the fine wine of this writing and these performances. Nice work, pal. Donít make us wait fifteen years for the next one.