There is always one totally under-the-radar record that captures my imagination each year (aside from the many woefully underrated artists of my hometown (Columbia, SC) that put out excellent records each year). And what I mean by “under-the-radar” is that I didn’t find it from any conventional music press or internet source, but rather seem to have come across it purely by chance from a friend or as an unknown opener at a show. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one this year, but then my brother turned me on to Micah Schnabel (of Two Cow Garage), who quietly released an acoustic solo record of such intimacy and intensity that it’s all I’ve wanted to listen to over the past few weeks.
The record, entitled When The Stage Lights Go Dim, is getting a re-release on Two Cow’s label Suburban Home Records after the initial pressing sells out, as it is a record worth keeping in print. Schnabel falls in the heart-on-sleeve Paul Westerberg songwriting tradition (whom he covers here), and his subject matter, although its mostly about how damn hard it is to be a touring musician, never comes across as overly whiny or self-aggrandizing. Instead, Schnabel seems to imbue the subject with a fresh sincerity each time, largely through his skills as a songwriter. The first song’s opening couplet is utterly jaw dropping–“Birthdays, anniversaries, and funerals go by/We’re all just looking for someone to cry when we die”—and the subsequent songs are as chock full of similar lyrical nuggets. Other highlights include the tender ballads “Girl Named January” and “My Blue Heart” that engage in emotionally vulnerable tales of desperate heartache, and the country-tinged character sketches “7 Little #s” and “God and Money”—although at just 10 songs clocking in at around 40 minutes, there is not a single unworthy moment here.
These songs rarely feature more than a single guitar and Schnabel’s voice, and although there are some beautiful strings and piano parts added to a few songs and some quiet female backing vocals, the record is largely carried by Schnabel’s lyricism, gift for melody, and ragged, emotionally engaging voice. While some may be put off by the grit and emotion in the vocals, I think it would be hard to ignore songs as gorgeously good as these. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of the few remaining copies at the Suburban Home Record here.