Montreal-based Dale Boyle’s Throwback, his fourth outing as a solo artist, is yet another quietly unassuming collection of thoughtful originals and well-chosen covers. It’s impeccably played and the recorded sound has a breathtaking intimacy and warmth. And if that’s not enough, Boyle sings like a rough-hewn, slightly gruff angel.
Boyle’s voice, in fact, is remarkably similar to Bruce Springsteen’s in the latter’s more reflective moments, but it’s neither imitation nor affectation – Boyle is far too honest and real for that.
Painting gentle but penetrating portraits of everyday people (“Unsung”) and places (“Leaving Dogtown”) with exquisite imagery and obvious affection, Boyle’s originals fit snugly alongside his cover of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” a parlor song written in 1854 that’s since become a folk standard. The titular “Throwback,” a paean to music of old and the elegance of a simpler time, fits nicely where blues and country and folk intersect, while Boyle does a remarkable job of arranging Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down,” remaining true to the song’s defiant spirit but giving it an almost ethereal feel with delicate acoustic and washes of shimmering electric guitar. It’s one of four tracks that benefit from warm background vocals courtesy of former Wailin’ Jenny Annabelle Chvostek, who stays around for a full-blown duet on the absolutely stunning alt-country “You Might Come Around.”
There’s a reflective, almost melancholic air prevalent throughout, with the sole exception the rather sunny instrumental “Spin,” a breezy finger-picking delight. Even the live take of “Baby Please Don’t Go,” recorded at a club in Montreal, owes more to composer Joe Williams than the familiar up-tempo version by Muddy Waters, a solo performance with intricate fretwork that’s more spiritual than carnal.
Boyle’s own compositions – one with help from fellow Montrealer Rob Lutes – are economical and evocative, with a fine eye for telling detail. “All Gone Now” sounds like a tune lifted straight from Springsteen’s “Seeger Sessions” outing – a hardscrabble, blue-collar lament more for what will never be than for the passing, sounding like a song that’s part of the collective consciousness rather than an original composition, while the co-write, “When You Wake,” is a quietly dignified declaration of love that endures.
Indeed, there’s a haunting, wistful wisdom to Boyle’s songs. They’re not pop pleas for physical contact passing as love songs – Boyle knows that loyalty, fidelity, and trust endure long after the lust has faded – “I’ll be here / When you wake / In the morning,” he sings, gently, but with unquestionable resolve, while elsewhere it’s “I will not let you down / If one day you might come around,” delivered with poignant and compelling candor. Every tune is sublimely supported by Boyle’s uncluttered arrangements – his fretwork is percussive where required, but apart from “Spin,’ instrumentation is subdued and unobtrusive, intimate and atmospheric. Solos are minimal, and only appear as appropriate – rather than instrumental interruptions, they’re woven into the tapestry of the songs, the words and the music intertwined as one.
Most music, pleasant though it may be, is quickly forgotten. “Throwback” is one of those discs that lingers long after the last notes have faded, burrowing deep and leaving a lasting impression. It’s wonderful stuff, and Boyle is a genuine treasure!