On his third album, Deeble uses little more than an acoustic guitar and his winsome Jeff Tweedy croon to maneuver through a stark landscape littered with lonely idealists and broken metaphors. One minute he’s following the trajectory of “The Boy with the California Sun,”—an epic depicting a tragic character forced to jump into the sea at gunpoint that’s part TV drama, part Book of Revelation—the next he’s imagining Emily Dickinson as a bohemian escapist, draping creeping electric-guitar lines over “The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.” Before he’s done he’ll reinterpret the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” with an even more achingly naked rendition and trudge off through the dank vignettes of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in “A Russian Murder Ballad,” a windblown acoustic guitar tune traced by the far-off rumble of strings. Throughout, Deeble’s verse is as evocative as it is evasive, compelling for its rich literate depth, though occasionally a bit too impenetrable and impersonal.
And while he’s a fine arranger, his lyrical acumen is often forced to carry a disproportionate amount of the album’s conceptual weight. Although always appropriate for the tone of his writing, Deeble’s melodies blend together making moments like the gospel-inflected piano strikes of “Jack’s Diary,”— a song that manages to breathe a little life into the on-the-road genre of songs—stand out all the more. At times, Deeble uses the hypnotic, skeletal arrangements to his benefit, his skittering melodies bobbing in a drab ether over rich acoustic-guitar picking and slight harmonica in “Blue,” a song that drops some of the lyrical pretense, coming at the listener more directly. In such moments, he’s truly an arresting talent, able to gain entry to places rarely imagined by most songwriters.