Paleo: Digging In The Dirt

“People have dug it so far. We actually get people dancing, which is pretty different. I was more used to … sometimes people would cry.” Experimental folk singer Paleo – or David Strackany as he’s known to  the government – is on the phone from the West Coast. He’s in the the midst of a five month haul in support of his latest album Fruit Of The Spirit, criss-crossing the country with a full band for the first, after spending the better part of the last decade traveling solo, spreading his adventurous, off-the-cuff sound one house show and art gallery at a time. And from the sound of things, the change in approach has had a momentous effect on the audience.

“Dancing is a totally different reaction. It’s a lot of fun.”

The same it could be said for Fruit Of The Spirit, a record that manages to capture the improvisational energy of contemporary experimental music and combine it with the elegant simplicity of backyard folk without ever being less than catchy-as-all-get-out. Engineered by Daytrotter’s Patrick Stolley and featuring a sprawling cast of instrumentalists, Spirit is the sort of album that doesn’t lend itself to easy references or lazy comparisons, an album that continuously challenges even the most jaded listeners and has tendency to stay lodged in your noggin for days, weeks, even months. Strackany spins stories with emotional depth and intellectual heft from seemingly non-sequitor lyrics.

“She’s waiting for the garden of the ocean to lay their flowers in her hand, so the ships hit rocks and shore, and the light stays on,” he sings on “Lighthouse,” a languid woozy song, all steel drum and stand-up bass. “Milk and money/time is honey/and Holly can’t be bought” he bellows on foot-stopping singalong lead single “Holly Would” before reminding us that “the clock is ticking/the baby’s kicking/ afterhours super powers and ordinary men.” And lest you become enraptured with his wordplay, Strackany reminds on the ramshackle album-closing “Poet” that “just because I’m wearing a lamp shade doesn’t mean I’m bright.”

“I don’t know a lot of times where a song is coming from or where a song is going when I start it. Something will just kind of spark and I’ll build from there. But I generally don’t have a strategy for moving along, like ‘I’m making the setting now, and I’m making a character and the character’s going to be sad and this is why he or she is going to be sad and this is how I’m going to explain that,’” says Strackany. “I think narrative is crucial, it’s very important. Another word to use – I think narrative implies like a chronology or an action – is plot or even just meaning … it’s like, ‘How do you feel about something’? There’s a narrative there, a context for those feelings.”

It’s this narrative-by-happenstance that separates Paleo from your typical point-A-to-point-B story-song folkies. The non-linear nature of the lyrics, the implicit-context-over-explicit-content approach makes Paleo’s work – including his previous albums and his yearlong  song-a day experiment The Song Diary (which, oddly enough, received a commendation from then Vice President Dick Cheney) – such a rich listening experience and such a beguiling pleasure. From the lo-fi, rambling folk of his Song Diary tour recordings to the avant-symphonies of Fruit, Paleo’s recorded output captures a wandering soul not content to stay in one place – mental or physical – for too long. These songs are simultaneously way out there and real close to home, a sampling of the strangeness that is the human experience, odd and yet universal because, well, this is an odd universe we all inhabit.