There is hope, though. Prolific Cincinnati-based songwriter David Enright and a slew of collaborators, under the guise The Haywards, buck the trend with the simultaneous release of two Pop masterpieces: an album of new material, Early Days of Old Age, and a collection of outtakes, Singles and Mistakes 19962000.
These are the second and third albums from The Haywards, more of a songwriting collaborative than an actual band. Enright writes and arranges the songs. Then he recruits a revolving door of Cincinnati's musical talent to fill in the blanks with lap steel guitar, violin, cello and the other usual suspects. The results are haunting, beautiful songs that leave a lasting impression upon the listener.
Early Days of Old Age is a different beast from its predecessor, The Haywards' 1999 debut Songs of the Middle Fingers. Enright has chucked the rootsier, more traditional Pop format in favor of minimalist arrangements complimented with more experimental tones and sounds.
Through the use of extended drones on "Happy New Year," a hushed background chamber orchestra on "French Nanny" or a well-placed piano, mandolin or banjo twang on "Glasses," the songs become the emotions that the lyrics chronicle. The instrumentation shines on this album and shows that while Enright may be the ringleader, this is definitely a communal affair with all members contributing equally to the whole.
The lyrical element of the songs makes Early Days of Old Age a characteristically Haywards album. Enright has the ability to weave believable tales of love, desperation and betrayal with a sardonic wit that eludes many contemporary songwriters. He channels the same lyrical and musical force that drives songwriters such as Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. His songs are permeated with a poetic and often brutal honesty that hits the listener on a personal level. You can't help but feel for the narrator in the second song, "Up," when he sings in a strained voice, "Looks like I am going to fuck things up all over again."
There's a subtle power to Early Days of Old Age that cannot be denied.
The Haywards' third release, Singles and Mistakes 19962000, is anything but what its title suggests. This is not a group of thrown-away tracks or b-sides as many collections of this sort turn out to be. Instead, the album is a further peek into the head of David Enright the songwriter via four track and studio projects that span multiple years and collaborators.
Garage Rock, drum machine and synth-induced Pop and lo-fi acoustic laments are but a few of the styles touched upon on Singles and Mistakes. Although the songs on the album may be varied in terms of presentation, each retains its own identity within The Haywards' repertoire because of the strength of Enright's song and lyric writing ability.
"Two Faces" and "Sloop John W" are holdovers from the Song of the Middle Fingers era. Highlighted by the superb vocal harmonies of Enright and Andrea Foster, these are more upbeat affairs rounded out with a lap steel guitar and violin.
Guitarist Bill Alletzhauser and drummer Dave Morrison of Cincinnati's Ass Ponys are excellent additions to two of the album's tracks. Alletzhauser's signature fluid guitar style lends itself extremely well to the pop of "Sell Me Out" and also adds a somber twang to "Dull." Morrison's solid, consistent drumming only ups the ante. This is a Cincinnati super-group even if in recording only.
The album's closer, "The Boy and Girl We Used To Be," is the standout track on the album. This duet between Enright and Megan Haas, who also played violin on Early Days of Old Age, is a dialogue in Pop song form between two old flames reminiscing on their past love. From the Phil Spector-inspired drums and off-kilter guitars to the catchy hook in the chorus, this song will be in your head for days.
With the release of two fine albums at once, The Haywards have strengthened an already tight reputation as one of the premiere musical outfits in Cincinnati. One can only wonder how long it will take for the rest of the world to catch up with The Haywards.
All of The Haywards' albums are available from www.royalfuzz.com.