The Boat that Carries Us
4 out of 5 stars
He’s no household name and at this late stage in a long discography that started when he fronted Midwestern new wave faves Sussman Lawrence back in the early 80s, it’s pretty clear he is never going to be. But that hasn’t stopped Peter Himmelman from churning out over a dozen solid solo albums of tough, unflinching adult folk/rock. Throw in a handful of children’s releases along with occasional TV soundtrack work and Himmelman has kept his head above the choppy music industry waters by cobbling together a career that most in his under-the-radar singer/songwriter genre would covet.
The hard work may not have paid off in commercial acceptance, but anyone who has heard his material understands just how lyrically and musically impressive he is. He combines various aspects of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Garland Jeffreys, Elliott Murphy and Peter Case rolled into one literate, often rocking, always observational auteur. Chalk up another winner for Himmelman with The Boat that Carries Us.
Although he’s worked with talented backing musicians, it’s tough to beat having both legendary bassist Lee Sklar and drummer Jim Keltner creating a pocket behind a terrific batch of songs. Despite downer titles such “Angels Die,” “Mercy on the Desolation Road,” “Double Time Sugar Pain,” and “In the Hour of Ebbing Light,” this album generally reflects a more positive outlook on life than past works. You know you’ve got a solid collection when one of the better tracks, the swampy “That’s What it Looks Like to Me” is nearly buried as the 12th selection out of 13. Working with producer/engineer Sheldon Gomberg who captures the majority of these performances live in the studio, provides a loose, ambient vibe perfect for Himmelman’s expressive, tough voice and the freedom for the players behind him to help shape the songs.
He is typically a vibrant, savvy wordsmith and those traits are in fine form on this lyric heavy set with its emphasis on travel themes such as the potent observations of his fellow plane passengers on “33k Feet.” The lack of printed words, or a booklet at all, is a bit of a misstep but it’s the only one for Himmelman who has delivered yet one more folk-rocking gem. Those unfamiliar with his talents can start here but then have the enviable task of digging back to uncover a treasure trove of his sadly hidden classics.