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CD review: Tabor sings on the 'Edge of Despair'

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2004

Web exclusive!

Download the following tracks for free from "Edge of Despair's Children's Album, being released Feb. 21 (use the right mouse button on a PC, or hold the mouse button down on a Mac to access the "save link as" option):

1. Three Strikes, You're Out (for Rush Limbaugh)

12. Tough As Nails (for Johnny Cash)

Find out more about Buddy Tabor and his albums at http://www.efolkmusic.com

Listening to "Motel Lonely," the third song off Buddy Tabor's new compact disc, "Edge of Despair Children's Album," I'm reminded of a similar night I spent 2 1/2 years ago at a run-down motel near a dirt field in Umatilla, Ore.

There was no alarm clock. The bed had strange lumps. And the walls, a sickly gray wood tatted with felt, smelled like vinegar. Like Tabor himself, I entered into a displaced limbo, somewhere between extreme fatigue and an overwhelming sensation of dread. I was desperate to fall asleep, wake up and go anywhere but Umatilla, the yellowest city in the world.

Love in the next room/ It can't get in/ It pounds on the walls/ and the window panes/ The stars are shining/ But you're hoping it would rain/ Now the angels sit/ On the ceiling fan blades.

"I wrote it in a motel in Palm Springs, Calif.," Tabor said. "I was sick. I had an ear infection. I was kind of confined to the room, so it was kind of like Dante's heaven and hell. One room there's lovers. The next room there's somebody with nobody."

So go the stories on "Edge of Despair," Tabor's latest collection of characters trapped in a crushing lethargy, surrounded by demons and their own encroaching doom.

Texas prostitute drug addict Carla Faye Tucker ("Brand New Jesus") is a reformed pick-axe murderer who repented and found God, but was still executed by then-Gov. George W. Bush. Bethel resident Nils Sara ("Soldier Story") is a one-time valedictorian who fought in Vietnam and came back tortured by machine-gun fire that "rattled the walls of his skulls at night." There's even a song about Rush Limbaugh's drug addiction, "THREE STRIKES YOU'RE OUT."

With the exception of "Medicated Family," a song about an 8-year-old strung out on Ritalin, it isn't about kids at all.

"This music isn't all about the winners, and neither is life," Tabor wrote in the liner notes. "It isn't about holding hands and having positve affirmations or getting that big Bush tax break or winning the lottery. I don't know about you, but my lottery ticket reads loser."

It's starkest on "A Fetal Position (Lament for the Parents of Mentally Ill)," Therapy and colored pills/ They never cured your ills/ Unanswered prayers and silence/ We watched you drown in violence/ The snakes come crawling from your skull.

It ends with a child, Tabor's voice digitally altered, screaming, "Mommy! Help me!" There's a moment of pause, then a discombobulating segue into "Hunting the Buffalo," a sprightly traditional instrumental rearranged by Juneau musician John Hartle. The counterpoint between the two tracks throws off the flow of the album, but reinforces the record's theme: it's not how you fall down, but how you stand up.

The pathos is absorbing. So much so, that two love songs, "Nothing But You," and "Love Is," are jarring. A Johnny Cash cover, "Tough As Nails," offers a note of redemption. But with the walls falling down is it too late?

The best run of the album is the second through fourth tracks, "Corporate Domination," "Motel Lonely" and "Brand New Jesus." Everything is in perfect alignment: the prose, the melody, the mood.

"Have You Ever Been Lonely?" is the most romantic and straightforward song on the disc and is beautiful for its old-time, light-of-the-moon simplicity. "Pilgrim's Journey," co-written with Riley Woodford, is another highlight, though the message is shrouded in religious metaphor.



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