Chris Canterbury/ Quaalude Lullabies/ Rancho Deluxe
3.5 out of Five Stars
Chris Canterbury isn’t exactly the kind of guy one would consider the life of the party. His new album, tellingly titled Quaalude Lullabies shares songs soaked in sadness and despair, a consistently downbeat attitude that indicates it may be best to keep any sharp objects well out of reach. The song titles alone indicate a deep depression, given that “The Devil, The Dealer & Me,” “Fall Apart,” Heartache For Hire,” and “Back on the Pills’ leave no doubt he’s constantly struggling to unravel a mangled mindset. The album’s only cover, the Will Kimbrough – written “Yellow Mama,” is darker still, a rumination on an inmate’s final moments before he’s strapped to the electric chair.
It’s hardly an exception. The mood is universally sad, somber, and sobering, and even a song that tells the travails of an ever-constant road warrior, “Felt the Same,” finds no joy in determining his destiny. As if the tone and tempo weren’t indications enough, the lyrics read like a plea for help. The truth doesn’t care if you choose it, a heart only breaks when you use it, he moans in “The Devil, The Dealer & Me.” “Fall Apart” has him begging, Hold me close so I don’t fall apart, reason enough to share some concern.
Strangely enough, in spite of it all, Quaalude Lullabies is remarkably affecting, even if it’s in the same way that one’s glued to a roadside wreck, while silently giving thanks that the misfortune was suffered by someone else. Granted, that sounds somewhat sadistic, but if there’s reason to rejoice, it’s because the listener can’t help but feel better by comparison. So too, the threadbare arrangements and Canterbury’s world-weary vocals are consistently compelling, sharing an honesty and insight that’s unerringly haunting, on the one hand, and decidedly determined on the other.
Ultimately, Canterbury is simply an Everyman, one seemingly resigned to his fate and content to deal with the consequences. “Kitchen Table Poet” sums those sentiments up succinctly, sharing the story of an unassuming individual with a gift for words and wisdom. “Over the Line” is sung from the perspective of a tireless trucker, who views life from the perspective of the highways and byways he travels without pause. Similarly, “Heartache for Hire” offers an alternative to the ne’er-do-well persona purveyed elsewhere, suggesting that perhaps there is some worth in what he has to offer after all. On the other hand, “Sweet Marie” tops out the tenderness courtesy of a love song not unlike that described by Kris Kristofferson in “Me and Bobby McGee.” Nevertheless, Canterbury would find his truest kinship with Townes Van Zandt, another restless renegade who found fame and futility went hand in glove.
Granted, Quaalude Lullabies isn’t the cheeriest sort of sojourn, but it is compelling nevertheless. Reality can be rough, but Canterbury seems well up to the task of simply taking it on.
Courtesy All Eyes Media