Wes Burdine and the Librarians
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Wes Burdine and the Librarians

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The best kept secret in music

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"Wes Burdine and the Librarians (Wednesday, February 16th, 2005, Uptown Bar, Minneapolis)"

hough his ambitious debut full-length album, This Is How I Discovered Gold came out last year, Wes Burdine was a totally new discovery for me just this past week. After an email of introduction the day before his show Wednesday at the Uptown Bar, I took a listen to the MP3’s on his website and was immediately hooked by his well-crafted, thought-provoking songs.

Early in Burdine’s set came the title song and opening track of his CD. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because it has a bit of the feel of Fastball’s 1998 hit “The Way” in the chord progression of its verses; but that’s about where the comparison ends. The structure and tempo of the song are fitting for the tale of a metaphoric journey and lend themselves well to the feeling of plodding along.

Up next was the song “A Sense of Duty” which starts out with gentle down-strummed acoustic guitar, and the lyric “I touched my forehead to feel the ash there.” (I encourage you to go read the rest of the lyrics on his website.) I can only make guesses about the possible spiritual underpinnings to this song as “Ash Wednesday,” which is referred to here, is the actual title of a song later on the disk. “A Sense of Duty” seems an incantation or decree as much as a song when Burdine sings “I declare a death to war and guns and bombs. (Maybe our prayers will be real by then.)” But despite the “oh no, not another sappy folk singer” alarm bells that may be ringing in your head, in Burdine’s hands, these words come off no hokier than U2’s “New Year’s Day.” The chorus hits you and sticks, a bit like the chorus to Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain.”

Burdine announced a new EP (The Jose Canseco EP) is in the works, expected in March, and that the next song, the mid-paced ballad "Prospects” will be on it.

The next song was a slowcore highlight. With the seemingly pretentious title “A Postcard from John Lennon,” it again comes off as anything but. It’s clear from this song alone, that Burdine’s lyrics and the way he weaves them together with melody is the work of someone with good understanding of the art of songwriting. A rhyme scheme is there, but it's subtle, appropriate, and never seems forced like the lyrics of pop songs often do.

Speaking of the words, though I enjoyed the album the first time through, I don’t think I appreciated it fully until my 5th listen when I read the lyrics as the songs played. One song that stood out lyrically was the song “Drawing on the Wall,” which reminded me of Ben Watt’s songwriting for Everything But The Girl. I still haven’t pinned down what it’s about. (A love relationship between a photographer and an institutionalized artist maybe?) But the point is these songs are worthy of serious attentiveness; the imagery is vivid and poetic, and your mind will start filling in stories of its own if the intended one isn’t clear. Lines like “You said, ‘It’s always better if you don't say a thing.’ You always said you'd ‘not say good-bye.’ I'm just waiting for hello again” can break your heart a little if they catch you off guard, like much of this album does.

Taking as a whole, “This Is How I Discovered Gold” is nothing like what you might expect it to be when you first pop it into your CD player. There’s a surreal breakpoint about halfway through when Burdine covers the crooner standard “Can’t Help Falling In Love” while a mournful droning lingers in the background, and sounds piped in at the end or the song are reminiscent of the moans of dying cows that open up the song "Meat is Murder" by the Smiths. It’s not hard to see that this might be disturbing in the context of songs about peace, growing up, and self-study, let alone occurring in the background of this classic love song. The album then plows into “First Loves,” a far from sentimental, haunting backwards look at adolescence. Then comes a post-modernist-titled four section song of ending and acceptance? “The End Pt. 1, 2, 3 and 4.” On “Ash Wednesday” the sound of a needle stuck in the final groove of a record on a vintage phonograph is heard throughout in the background only to return again at the very end of the album

But back to Wednesday’s show, “Come Home,” the extended closing song of the disk was played next. Country-ish and re-assuring, even if there’s still a profound sense of longing in the song, there seems to be at least a smidgen of hope that the person being asked to “come home” just might. Charissa Freeman provided lovely harmonies on this and other songs from her seat behind the keyboard.

The next few songs “Dirt,” and “In the End” were new, and Burdine really picked up the pace, rocking out rather intensely for the first time all night. He admitted later in an email, “By the end of that set I had to bend over and catch my breath and was ready to fall over--I've never out-rocked myself before.”

Drummer David Osborne, though he had called himself banter-challenged earlier in the evening, announced, “The human body can stand more rock than people give it credit for” as the band began its second to last number, a bouncy song called “Skin” which featured Burdine singing in a nicely done falsetto at times.

Burdine dedicated the band’s final song Burdine to their favorite steroid using baseball player, “Jose Canseco.” I didn't catch all the words, but considering the thematic quality of “This is How I Discovered Gold,” I’m looking forward to the Jose Canseco EP. And I expect you'll be hearing a lot more about Wes Burdine soon. - howwastheshow.com


"Wes Burdine & The Librarians: Songs for the literati"

Wes Burdine was never a rocker—an evocative lyricist, a talented young songwriter, sure, but never a rocker. If one thing was made abundantly clear by his solo debut last year, This Is How I Discovered Gold, it’s that Burdine, 23, was too busy poking at listener’s gray matter or tugging on their heart strings to worry much about making them tap their toes. That’s why my first spins of Burdine’s The Jose Canseco EP, recorded with his newly found backing mates the Librarians, caught me completely off guard. It’s the sunny pop music day that follows This Is How I Discovered Gold’s long and tormented night.

Download an mp3 of Wes Burdine and the Librarian ‘s song “A Sense of Duty.”

“Gold was recorded pretty much in a basement and wherever I could find equipment,” explains Burdine of the startling difference between his two recordings. “So I would sneak up to my old college [Bethel] and just use everything they had lying around. I pretty much played everything on the record myself—including things I don’t really know how to play—there was a lot of on the spot arranging. This process couldn’t have been more different.”

Linking up with the newlywed husband and wife team of Charissa (keyboards, backing vocals) and David Osborn (drums) and rounded out by guitarist Ross Piper and David’s older brother Don (bass), the backing band, which would be eventually dubbed the Librarians, led Burdine to rethink his approach to music making. “I had some songs that were milling around for awhile,” explains Burdine. “But now I actually was taking the time to arrange them and really learn to play them with a band—which was something I hadn’t done in years. I started to listen to some early Elvis Costello and started thinking, ‘hey, you know this is something I can do’—because rock music has always been something hard for me to work out. So when I was trying to write something like ‘Jose Canseco,’ which is a two-minute pop song, I was definitely experimenting and kind of reaching just to see if I could write that kind of song.”

Snappy rhythms and jangly electric guitars may have reset the template for The Jose Canseco EP, but Wes Burdine’s music is still far from a full-on rock assault, it’s a considered and thoughtful approach to folk-rock, in which Burdine’s voice in its more mournful moments recalls Pedro the Lion front man David Bazan, and at others operates in a breezier higher register. Where Burdine really sets himself apart is the lyric department. Unlike so many pop combos content to write solely about their latest brush with heartbreak, Burdine, who holds a college degree in Literature and Writing, stares larger issues straight in the eye on the majority of his songs.

“What I write about, all of it—whether that’s war, love, business, baseball—it’s about the connections between people,” explains Burdine of his songwriting style. “The grace between people or what comes between them—like politics. I’m inspired by musicians like Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird, artists willing to write songs about anything and everything.”

A prime example of Burdine’s skillful lyricism is the album’s opening cut, “A Sense of Duty” (which turns up on the The Jose Canseco EP as an appropriately rocked out remix of the version that first appeared on This Is How I Discovered Gold). Part personal narrative and part political protest song, “A Sense of Duty” manages to touch on numerous hot button issues (religion, war) without getting preachy (“The earth kept spinning in 3/4 time and I felt out of place dancing while others died. So I went out and bought a gun from the Big K to try and do my part—to keep evil away.”).

“The Iraq war was about to start two years ago and I went to an Ash Wednesday service at a Catholic church in South Minneapolis and then afterwards went to a war protest,” explains Burdine of the song’s origins. “It was springtime, which is supposed to be romantic, and I’m walking around with this cross on my forehead in the midst of all this. It was all these things coming together—the war, the mortality of Ash Wednesday and what that means. So I wanted to examine those things but I wanted to avoid being preachy. I just wanted to throw out this cheesy belief, like ‘all we are saying is give peace a chance,’ and see if it could stick. I know this is idealist, but if we’re going to talk about utopian things like the idea of bringing democracy to other people or Ash Wednesday, they’re just as idealist [as being a pacifist]. So that’s what I wanted to do, just kind of examine these huge beliefs people have and see how they deal with them.”

With Wes and the Librarians just starting to get their feet wet on the Twin Cities club scene (“We’ve played, like, five shows together as a band at this point and end up getting drunk half of the time because we’re so nervous.”), there’s good reason to think that the best is yet to come from Burdine as he melds the braininess of his lyricism with a more direct and forceful musical approach. “I’m still paying off the credit card bills from making This Is How I Discovered Gold,” explains Burdine when I ask about his future goals. “So just having a label willing to put out this new EP [local upstart Quixote Records] and the next record is exciting. If I can put out records that people enjoy and pay for themselves then I’ll be happy.” || - Pulse (Twin Cities)


Discography

Jose Canseco E.P

This is how I discovered Gold

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Minnesotan by way of Allentown, Pennsylvania and College Station Texas, Wes Burdine's song-writing has been forged in confusion a little country music here and a lot of rock 'n' roll there.

The Librarians were formed with the husband/wife team, David and Charissa Osborn, on drums and Keys/vocals, Don Osborn on Bass and Ross Piper on Guitars. The band began to help Wes recreate the ambient, slow short woven melodies of his solo release 'This is how I discovered Gold'. Soon after the bands conception more punching indie songs were being penned, infusing his melancholy thought provoking lyrics with vitriol induced melodies. With the addition of thick harmonies and teeming guitars, Wes Burdine and the Librarians began to reshape a thickly arranged rock outfit. Now with the release of the 'Jose Canseco EP', Wes and the gang have thrown their chips on the table and made an aural enterance into rock 'n' roll. Described as "the sunny pop music day that follows This is how I discovered Gold's long and tormented night," the EP pieces together hand claps and overdriven guitars with five part harmonies and imaginative story telling. Seemingly incongruous, the band now pieces together country backbeats with Beach Boy-esque harmonies over a well placed tube amp.