Curses, Scott Barkan! The dazzling guitarist who is also a tenderhearted-but-subversive songwriter has released an amazing new album, Flightless Bird, mere months after we reviewed his last one, Little Days. Well, as both titles suggest, themes of self-effacement and self-sabotage abound in Barkan’s jazz/folk/rock epics. Let us hope that they do not describe his career plan and marketing methods as well, but I have my doubts.
So does Barkan. On Flightless Bird, he takes self-doubt to a place of Zen acceptance. Free now of the need to apologize, deaf now to the demands and reprimands of the internalized Type A tyrant (who is the real invasive species in the pure self-doubting psyche), self-doubt turns out to be a beautiful and powerful thing – like any other irreducible essence, once it awakens to itself. When the flightless bird finally reaches this advanced stage of understanding and acquiescence, there is only one thing left that can trouble its earthbound peace: not dreams, not money, not ambition, but only the duties and dependencies of love.
Barkan courageously underplays his expert guitar on this effort. It’s about the songs. The spacious ensemble arrangements foreground Barkan’s dry, intimate vocals: a top crust of curmudgeon that fails to cover the world of feeling underneath. His best zingers are always self-directed; but this is a serious relationship album, from the naked admission of the title track to the haunted finale, “Last First Love.” Along the way, we pass through the wry masochism of “Break It to Me Hard,” the weary speak/sing of “Crank Radio” and the deeply moving bard rock of “Bad Dreams,” in which the flightless bird tries to summon the emotional wherewithal to comfort a tormented partner.
Look, if you could play guitar half as well as Scott Barkan, your skeeviest uncles with remote “showbiz connections” would be hounding you at family barbecues, and everyone would be trying to buy you new gig shirts. Maybe – just maybe – you’d have the courage to stay as true to your modest essence and its odd-bird musical imagination as Barkan does on Flightless Bird. And maybe that would be the start of something special.
Scott Barkan, Flightless Bird CD Release Show with special guests the Sweet Clementines & Seth Davis, Thursday, October 10, 8 p.m., $5, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 481-5158, www.bspkingston.com, https://scottbarkan.bandcamp.com.