Sad lyrics don't necessarily make sad songs. (The best example might be Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky": Just when you think you're hearing an ecstatic yipping-poodle track of the don't worry, be happy Eighties, you realize that the Australian Madonna is saying everyone's in love except her.) The most effective melancholy tunes mess with your immediate emotional response. Take Dan Israel's Cedar Lake: The local singer-songwriter's voice is so stoic that he could be singing CNN transcripts, for all you know. But read the lyrics: He's talking about living with depression ("Heavy"), reacting to 9/11 ("Phone Call"), and, er, dealing with the death of his cat ("Lucy").
That last one's a little facetious. And it's to Israel's credit that you can't necessarily tell: He maintains the same stogie-puffing tone no matter what words he's singing. Although the lyrics sometimes lose resonance with all of their heavy-handed poeticism ("I was an actor, I could deceive/But without you I would only grieve"), the no-frills sound balances out the more dramatic metaphors. (Israel recorded the album on a four-track in his apartment, using mostly guitar, harmonica, and a handful of chords.) Cedar Lake is at its best when it's stripped-down and stream-of-consciousness--the sound of an open-mic improviser playing in his underwear. Sometimes even the best actors don't need to put on a show.
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