~W. Somerset Maugham once wrote that newspaper writing, particularly writing reviews of other works, will kill the writer’s soul, cut off his sense for feeling…
Bugger off Maugham; even for this lost soul, Bathgate percolates goosebumps, sets the tiniest glisten of moisture at the tear-ducts, yet somehow still starts a fire whilst enveloped in the chilliest of settings and semblance…with just his music and his voice.
One of Ann Arbor’s favorite songsmith sons, Bathgate deftly renders pure catharsis… making the over romanticized primal “catharsis” of the bang-your-head methodologists from punk rock or the lachrymose falsetto “catharsis” that Starbucks tried to package you with Death Cabs or Dashboards…feel cheap and hollow.
Bathgate’s a writer at heart, a true poet; achieving “folk” ballads that feel so emotional without being contrived, mopey or eye-rollingly maudlin; indeed, heretofore, his music has been flanked with adjectives more attuned to warning signs: bleak, brooding, melancholy, gloom, etcetera-et-sad-cetera.
Those are scary words – but what a writer finds so scary about Bathgate is his realness. Songs on his 2nd full-length Salt Year are ringed and resonating with discrete droning tones from brass, steel-pedal or moaning guitars, evoking the same here-and-now gravitas of a displaced private space where a loved one starts choking up those first few bold words for what will, you preternaturally intuit, be a heavy, dragin-out talk.
That, or the solemn slalom of certain chosen sonic elements, be they a haunting whap of a trumpet like a tinny interruptive growl under -shimmering yet-still-stark guitar’s amble on “Everything,” or the weird metallic sprinklings over a fuzzy looped guitar of “Borders” invoke the same subtle devastations wrought out and around all too ponderous minds in the quieter corners of the day, be it morning frost, or the divvyed afternoon dust or getting “all static and quivering with the shades all drawn…”
Bathgate lays it down with such calmness and with such intricate, piercing poetic phrases, in his Midwest-tinged baritone syrupy at some points, pained and raspy at others, through tracks like “Borders,” that it’s clear to writers who grab ominous adjectives just like they’d grab pillows or blankets, that Bathgate, with his brand of gothic Americana, epitomizes “evening fear coming on…” –tangible, but you don’t know why, like you’ve been on his wounded stages somewhere before, in memories so blocked out they feel like dreams.
Where other folk balladeers sound too much like radio reachers, Bathgate is closer to the quavered voice that punctures hearts with a telephone receiver’s fuzz, late at night. The pedal-steel’s warble at “Salt Year’s” opening elucidates the head-swimming lull one feels after either: a.) screaming their guts out, b.) remembering last kisses, or c.) getting punched in the temple.
I don’t get by on a happy tune / and I don’t get sung in the afternoon… / and when that evening fear is just coming on / I’m all static and quiverin with the shades all drawn
Here, Bathgate is unpacking the haunting surrealism felt when one rears away from the weird complacency set on by long relationships and tries to chart the why’s and where’s of how you, how we, how they, got to here, or got to there. But more so, it’s the measurement of not one, but almost three, hard-fought years of Bathgate’s steady steer to maintain his course cross the musical seas, in the face of other obligations, be they noble or perfunctory – giving it that much more passion to exude.
“Time” is a radiant, twanged out country blues tune, “Own Design” is a steely, stomp-and-pull-back rock pirouette, with dazzling guitars, while “Poor Eliza” gently sways and poignantly jerks you with effervescent acoustic guitar plods over low roaring upright bass saws. It’s redemption is the warmth of its swelling crescendos and sauntering bass, like fresh sun dried linens wafted down upon a weary body for much needed (if disregarded) rest, a dream-scattered nap at dawn, after a full night’s of writing and recording.
Salt Year Release Shows:
4/21 @ Blind Pig - Ann Arbor;
4/22 @ The Strutt -Kalamazoo;
4/23 @ Founders Brewery - Grand Rapids
4/28 @ MAC's - Lansing