Starsailor's Sophomore Effort Wears Heart on its Sleeve

The opening track to Starsailor’s sophomore long-player, Silence Is Easy claims “Music Was Saved”. I won’t go so far as to take that totally to heart, but at times, and in some ways, the album makes me feel that way. There is a special sense of camaraderie, and yes, salvation throughout the proceedings, that leaves one feeling buoyant, liberated and cleansed—and it has less to do with musicianship or sonic appeal, and more to do with the songs themselves.

As a group, Starsailor may be the most earnest, song-driven and universal-minded musical collective since U2 first entered our lives way back in the 1980’s (seems like another lifetime, doesn’t it?). Here the songs tap you on the shoulder with a courtly honesty to reinforce obvious, but important ideas … and man, do we need this now! A good example is “Some Of Us”. On top of a simple, but elegant folk-based melody, the lyrics, while very personal on one level, deliver a concise, universal message about mortality and coping with the modern world while trying to remain an honest human being. What popped into my head while listening to this was Dylan’s classic line: ‘To live outside of the law you must be honest…’.

“Shark Food” is another song that showcases the bands’ real quality. ‘We’re stepping through the door / we’re shooting from the heart / but if we get it wrong, they’ll feed us to the sharks…’. This must be one of the most honest statements from a band on the verge of stardom, ever. Singer/guitarist James Walsh’s delivery here (and throughout) is so emotionally in-the-moment that one cannot help but give credence to what is being sung. To be sure, his voice will definitely find people drawing comparisons to Bono…but, aside from virtue, honesty and strength of spirit, the resemblance ends there. It’s similar to the Sting/Bob Marley analogy of the late 70’s when the Police rolled through. While Starsailor is its own unique creation, there are influences: The Beatles and Tim Buckley immediately come to mind. But, as some wise man said, ‘Sooner or later, it all gets real..’.

As an ensemble, the group remains as deceptively simple as it was on its debut. Rhythm guitar, bass and drums drive the melody, while Barry Westhead’s subtle, in the pocket keyboards, add color to the songs, though Leo Abrahams’ elegent string arrangements buttress three of the tracks. The strings swing and swirl to such dazzling heights On “Bring My Love,” that I found myself looking at the credits for Van Dyke Parks’s name. It’s that good, my friends.

Although Phil Spector produced two songs (the title track and “White Dove”), and they are indeed wondrous and on par with some of his finest work, being only two, they do not necessarily stand apart from the rest of the album. “Silence Is Easy” is the obvious single, with Spector creating a similar vibe to what he did with his early Lennon/Plastic Ono Band singles – especially “Instant Karma”. Multiple pianos and guitars pound out the rhythm and melody in one fine ball of fire, creating a perfect bed for Walsh’s tome of liberation. Key here is that Spector shies away from the ‘Wall Of Sound” and so never threatens to strip Starsailor of its own identity. Perhaps this is maturation on Spector’s part—at least that’s the way I’m looking at it. Chances are this may be his last ‘new’ production.

For such an organic record, the sound is beautifully extravagant. Danton Supple and Starsailor produced the majority of the tracks, and captured the emotion of the songs and performances with beautiful accuracy. There is virtually nothing between the band and the listener, and this is extremely appealing. The band themselves are a rare breed today: they play strictly for the songs themselves, and with a zero bullshit quotient. This simple, close ensemble playing is rendered with a fine balance of a crisp top end (especially the acoustic guitars and cymbals) and a bottom end that isn’t distracting, yet still manages to propel the songs.

Sweetening some tracks didn’t change the sound of the album to any negative degree. A good example of this is the strings on “Telling Them” and “Bring My Love”, which miraculously capture the sound of the room they were recorded in, and sound as if they were cut live with the band. This in itself adds to the consistency of the album. There are some interesting surprises as well, such as the neo-70’s funk of “Four On The Floor”, which seems to come out of nowhere near the end of the record and provides the listener of the band’s versatility. With that said, the future for this band seems assured.

In the end, this is a profound record of comfort, compassion and the possibilities of change. Near the album’s end comes a song called “Born Again”. Yes, it is religious, but not in the organized sense. In this grand, sweeping statement of purpose and existence, Walsh sings, ‘Oh, it won’t be long….until their hold is broken…”. Take it for what it’s worth; I’m looking at honesty and change. So it appears is Starsailor. If you are as well, this record is for you.