Chris Rawlins is based in Chicago. This is his debut album, and significantly it has been produced by none other than Steve Dawson. So here is an unusual and remarkable record, in Chris Rawlins’ own words, “It’s a hawk that screeches in the winter wind.” Rawlins has written here songs about ordinary life, its personal nature, and how, very often, from different perspectives, it has differing effects on the people involved in the songs, and on an audience, or an individual listening.
Interestingly, he describes how a narrative can often seep out of the images. In the first song, ‘Gravity or Something’, the words and their pictures take you on a journey. Start with “the skeletons” and the buildings “going up and down.”Look at the album cover! And think of gravity and going down. But, be aware of “silent kisses” and “people walking all around.” Hear Steve Dawson’s steel gently weeping in the background, the steady heartbeat of the rhythm, the words that catch you, as the images appear, surreal and thought-provoking: “A rock waiting on the burning ground,” “the moon,” “love and smoke.”And, as a spur, the moving and unexpected question, “Sometimes I wonder why/It never ever makes you cry.”
And that is how Rawlins’ lyrics work, catching you out sometimes, but always teasing out the connection between love, “down on you”, and “gravity.” But as the song develops, “Stars are shining through the trees again,” “shining white like a skeleton” and we have the reference to the start. And this confirms the strength of the lyrics, the lilt of the singing and the haunting nature of the production, of the steel guitar.
So, that’s it…. falling in love! You can tell, that as a listener you are in the hands of a precise, unnerving descriptor. What’s going on? The answer to that seeps out of the action: the shock of falling in love.
There will be no further detailed analyses of song lyrics in this review. The rest of the album continues at this level of description and understanding, backed up by high musical production. Listen carefully, look out for the detail, let the words soothe or screech at you, and let the music amaze you.
To tempt you further look out for Rawlins’ ability to capture moments in phrases; in the title track, for instance, a “bulldog walking” and “crickets whispering.” Or, detailing actual words spoken: “Hey, look at you, you tied up both your shoes.” All this with an underlining four-note motif, plucked on the guitar, that captures your interest. Notice Steve Dawson’s lap steel on ‘Tomorrow’, in perfect conversation with Rawlins’ lyrics, even matching the “scent of sweet magnolia.”
In ‘Almost Anytime’, notice Chris’ use of rhyming couplets: “the flicker of a sign/ Some place is open all the time.”And listen particularly to Cold Night, frighteningly ghostly, with another four-note motif, and its memorable lines: “The empty eyes of houses looking down on me” leaving “a cold blue kiss upon my grave.”
As a lyricist and singer, Chris Rawlins has an interesting musical future lying before him. This is a rich, unforgettable first album.