Live From Chester

D.B. Rielly

Shut Up And Play!, 2018

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing about D.B. Rielly is that this particular Arlo Guthrie-ish acoustic troubadour comes off as a gentle and amiable soul even when he’s imagining his ex being run over by a bus. He’s just that likeable, and witty, and fearless.

Live From Chester is the second live set from one-man-show Rielly in as many years, following on last year’s Live From Long Island City. As before, the album is a spare ten tracks of just D.B. and his guitar (or banjo), with no props, tricks, or support other than the man’s own sharp ear and observational skills. Also again, eight of these tracks are actual songs, while the other two are spoken interludes that are nearly as entertaining as the songs that follow.

The aforementioned bus makes its grand entrance in laugh-out-loud opener “Your Stupid Face,” a tune that’s just as rascally and petulant as its title suggests, yet is somehow still tinged with loneliness. And that’s the essence of Rielly’s art, that duality of tone. He bobs and weaves back and forth like a prizefighter between playful, chuckle-inducing novelty tunes and earnest ballads like second track “A Home Like This.” The fact that you never know which fork in the road each song is going to take until you’re in the middle of it is what makes Rielly special. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

He’s also concise—there’s never a wasted note or idea, and every song here is four minutes or less, with most of them closer to three. With just his acoustic guitar or banjo supporting, it’s all in the words and the delivery.

Sharp as the barbs in “Your Stupid Face” can be, Rielly more typically goes for self-deprecating humor, as in “I’m Your Man,” where he gleefully declares, “If you don’t want nobody special / ’Cause I ain’t no dream come true / But I can sit on the couch and I can watch TV / And if that’s what you’d like to do / Honey, I’m your man.” Of course, he doesn’t just leave it at that; he peels down through the layers to make a point about expectations and happiness: “Some people, they’ve got high hopes / Always shootin’ for the stars / But there’s a lot to be said for those / Who are happy with the way things are.”

Naturally, the next song is an elegy for a departed parent—the somber, moving, one hundred percent serious “The Sea”—because that’s just how D.B. rolls. Just to keep you guessing, he doesn’t switch back on the next one, rolling right into “Moving Mountains,” another poignant tune about persistence and overcoming obstacles.

Two tracks repeat from Live From Long Island City, “My Ma” and “I’ll Remind You Every Day,” and why wouldn’t they? The first is a clever, heartfelt monologue about a conversation with his mom (“My ma is so funny. She’ll just be funny at the weirdest times, but sometimes you need to be funny in those times, right?”). The latter is a show-stopper, a heartbreaking song about gradually losing a dynamic spouse to Alzheimer’s that’s once again met with wet-eyed applause.

Rielly is also quick-witted enough to transform a sneeze interrupting the intro to the next song into a memorable anecdote about Tito Puente. When “Your Doggin’ Fool” eventually arrives, it’s a keening “woman done me wrong” country-blues, the lead-in to more light-hearted closer “Don’t Think So Much.” The latter offers a helpful bit of life coaching in the form of mordantly direct choruses like “Don’t think so much / Have fun instead / Before you know it / You’ll be dead.” There’s also a brilliant verse about the Dalai Lama that I won’t spoil for you—you’ll just have to listen for yourself.

D.B. Rielly is a world-class storyteller who can paint a picture with just his voice and guitar, mixing humor and pathos and a scruffy, hard-scrabble wisdom to get you involved and invested in the lives of his characters. Like his very best songs, it’s a beautiful thing.

Rating: B+

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