The Sad Song Co.'s Worth Album Review
When an artist chooses to write and perform under the moniker “The Sad Song Co.”, certain assumptions about the type of music the artist creates would be perfectly justified and, in this case, fairly accurate. The three albums that have been released since producer and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Powell’s solo project debuted fifteen years ago – miseryguts (2003), Poignant Device (2007), and in amber (2016) – have been explorations of the forlorn and wistful. But Powell sets aside despair for tentative hopefulness with The Sad Song Co.’s new release, Worth, due out February 9th.
Taken from the track “Worth My Bones,” the album title refers to the search for one’s self-worth in its myriad manifestations – through the spiritual and philosophical, to the material and the domestic, to the carnal. This unifying thread weaves the album together, becoming a study in the confrontation of feelings on insecurity and inadequacy. But despite this wrenching subject matter, there is a lightheartedness to the album, a glimmer of silver lining pervading the stormy clouds. The songs aren’t sad as much as cautiously optimistic, which, as Powell wryly admits, caused him to spare a moment wondering if it had a place in The Sad Song Co.’s catalog.
A member of the erstwhile Unbelievable Truth, the on-hiatus Dive Dive, and currently Frank Turner’s backing band the Sleeping Souls, Powell’s musical career has seen him leap genres, from prog rock to the “pop hardcore” of his Oxford, England, hometown bands, to Turner’s particular brand of folky punk rock. This diverse background collides in Worth, and the resulting mix is eclectic, hypnotic, and decidedly more rock and roll than its predecessor, in amber. The album opens with “Lifestyles,” a tale that urges one to be careful what one wishes for, the appropriately somber bass line provided by Powell’s longtime collaborator Jason Moulster. But the listener is immediately lifted up with the effervescent “I Don’t See It” and its cheeky use of chimes and bells. With his delicate but powerful voice, Powell takes listeners on a sonic journey, from the electronic lament of “Einmal Ist Keinmal,” to the achingly lovely “Islands,” to the ‘80s-esque pop of “Lonely is a State of Mind.” Hard-edged guitar solos appear in softly pretty ballads; surprise guest vocalists become a gospel choir. But for all of Worth’s reassurances, the sweeping nine-minute confessional “Wounded Lion” closes the album on an ambiguous note. Listeners are left to draw their own conclusion as to whether or not the protagonist finds the redemption for which he or she is searching.
With the exception of two tracks that retired English singer-songwriter Chris T-T co-wrote, Powell composed the album himself on rare, lengthy breaks in touring with the Sleeping Souls. His songwriting showcases a thoughtful realness tinged with a sense of humor; he finds poetry in the ordinary. With its exploration of uncertainty and temptation and deliverance, universal subjects to which most can relate, Worth asks listeners to acknowledge their fallibility and reminds them that to err is human, but to forgive – especially oneself – is divine.
Coverage by Colleen Martin and Photograph by Rich Russo
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