Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Nothing comes easy in a Barton Carroll song and yet, the North Carolinan living in Seattle still manages to make us feel as if we're taking the difficulties while swooshing back and forth on a rope swing at the close of a day. There's no wind to be spoken of and there's mercy all around. It's the perfume that's stumbling through the air. It smells like something that we'd place halfway between that feeling of being defeated and one of flipping on the reading light and getting off your feet for the first time all day, finally resting, finally letting your heart and your mind settle down a little bit. Much of what Carroll writes about are those domestic matters of bliss and the other - the rotted out and decaying parts that used to resemble or were born of bliss - and they're given an uncensored voice. They are allowed to speak and they're allowed to be strong, even with the shakiest of nerves and feeling on the verge of breaking into sobs and utter depression at any second. We feel as if we're lost with these characters, working out the issues with their complicated relationships, many of which sound doomed to not work out or as if they haven't ever been working. There are numerous father-son issues that aren't getting worked out. They're just getting batted around, the details and the painfulness of love withheld coming out as red and as raw as ever, even if the issues have been around for decades. On "Small Thing," Carroll sings, "I heard that all brothers and fathers do the same during wartime/I was a child/I was on the wrong side/I was broken/War sleeps deep in a man long after guns are gone/He loses care for small things/And I, I was a small thing." The man is a tremendous crafter of mood and he's best at making one that feels vacant and yet as warm as anything could ever possibly be. It's as if the problems have been dealt with in their own way and there's been a conclusion made that these are just the things that are going to have to be lived with. What's a man really going to do? What's he supposed to do? Carroll believes in the uncontrollable properties of life and love, those parts that are uncomfortable and still, sometimes fortuitous. He believes that there are more gravel roads than paved ones. The path is long and it is steep. I believe I heard that somewhere, recently. It fits here. All of Carroll's long, gravel roads are straight uphill. "There's a reason for the pain," he sings on "This Town Is Cold" and he concludes the thought with these lines from "Let's Get On With The Illusion," "And if you share my confusion/If love and life turned out as such/If you lost faith in the magic touch/Well, maybe we just lived too much so let's just get on with the illusion/I'll buy you a dress and a big diamond ring/And the vows I conjured up won't mean a thing/If I can lower that curtain and get you to sing/Then I'll take the magic black or white/I don't care if it's bona fide/Since you and I know love's a lie/Let's get on with the illusion."