Gary Carey is a good friend and a songwriting craftsman. We met at a songwriting week about 9 years ago, and have been meeting up, along with the rest of a motley crew of songsters, twice a year for a few days ever since. The songwriting brought us together, but the friendships have kept us going.
He has recently released a CD of his songs called What's Not To Like? And the answer is: it took such a flipping long time to get it done. It's impossible for me to listen to the songs, as I did for the first time on the way back from our recent get together, and disassociate the man I've come to know and love from the music. So I'm not going to try. Suffice to say that the music is as warm, generous, caring, wry, and humorous as he is. And this won't be a review from the "writing eloquently about music you hate" school of criticism.
Gary has an alter ego (Ryan Eyre?) in which his dirty-wicked humour comes out. On this album the focus is generally on the intimate side, warm and nostalgic, but never cloying. The first half of the CD is a collection of love songs that are almost from another era. An era where love was sincere, gentle, hopeful, and wistful. But also realistic.
What's Not To Like, the opener, is a lovely laid back, understated way of telling someone you love them. The antidote to "can't live if living is without you" music. Does that make it less romantic? Nah. More so.
Everything I'm Not is a simple plea to a partner. And we've all been there if we've been in a relationship lasting longer than 2 weeks. "Please, just let me be who I am, not who you want me to be". Did I mention that these are love songs with a realistic edge?
The Way I'm Loving You Now is as close as Gary gets on this album to pledging his eternal, undying affection with exclamation marks. Actually, it gets very close now I mention it. But sometimes that's necessary. I think I'm going to ask him about the inspiration for this one. She must be gorgeous.
The lovely countryish (I am incredibly bad at identifying genre's hence the tentative "ish") That'll Be Me is in the same vein as What's Not To Like. Gary hails from Oldham. It's not the most impressive town in the known universe, but it clearly breeds a kind of unpretentious, slightly cocky, laid back self confidence that I wish I'd possessed when I was a teenager. And although the man himself has recently left his youth behind, I suspect he had this back in the day.
That Girl's Gone is a moving take on losing someone. And moving on. But not being able to forget. But not wanting to be reminded either. Ultimately it's about facing the facts of life...after the birds and bees have flown.
Which brings us to the second half of the album. I love the first half because it is like a warm cocoon of relationship familiarity. The rough with the smooth. The shared experience of "we've all been there".
But I like the second half even more.
I really doubt anybody has written a more sensitive song about the losses of war than Jamie's Coming Home. Gary has told me that this one was inspired by a newspaper article. If newspaper articles were regularly brought to life in this way then Fleet Street could still have a future. A lovely, poignant, compassionate tribute.
By The River is a personal favourite from the album and, to my mind, an instant classic. A beautiful, gentle gospel song about places of healing. The sort of place you'd perhaps want to visit if you'd known Jamie. Or simply if you've ever lived, loved, and lost. A place "where time smooths a pebble from every jagged stone, and peaceful waters flow". For me it really does have healing qualities. Brilliant.
Redemption Road hints at the inner rock god bursting to get out of Mr Carey given half a chance. A song about the search for forgiveness after being a complete eejut. And "If mistakes were trees, we'd all be in the shade" is a fecking awesome line.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the promises we were given about our space age futures? Holiday's On Mars does exactly that in a Faith-esque foot pumping boogie with a touch of the Carey humour that his friends know and love. Very catchy. But as far as I know, unlike George Michael, Gary won't be found cruising public conveniences. He would like to cruise the stars though. If the people with the technology can be bothered to get their corporate fingers out.
And to finish it all is a song that I think holds a lot of nostalgic appeal for Gary personally. And for our songwriting collective. A lovely sing-along with a great message. Open Heart is about the way we should all be living. Not cynically, or ironically, or cautiously. But openly, expectantly, hopefully. And if anybody wants to argue with that, I'm up for the fight.
So, there we have it. My first ever Album review. As should be clear, I'm a fan. Although Gary Carey is an incredibly able and eclectic writer this is not cutting edge music. But it wasn't intended to be. What it is is an album of extremely well crafted songs, with emotional punch and moving, sometimes brilliant lyrics. It is a place of shelter from the storms, providing reasons to smile even in sadness. I think anybody who gives it a listen will feel that they, like me, have found a friend. So do give it a listen here and contact him at his site if you want to purchase the CD. Recommended.
The line "Who wants to sing it? The last song standing" is from my Fee Comes Fourth tune Last Song Standing. You know where my site is. Go to Gary's instead.