If You Only Knew...

Blue Sandcastle

Blue Sandcastle, 2002


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Does the world really need another singer-songwriter who trolls the aisles of the great Supermarket of Regret, throwing down beer-soaked tirades and wounded laments?

It's a question worth asking after coming across a debut album like this, so rife with pain and ringing guitar riffs that you half expect to find Paul Westerberg lurking in the liner notes. Despite that obvious (and frankly acknowledged) influence, though, this piece of work stands strong on its own.

Blue Sandcastle is a group that's just barely a group; the two members and co-writers of the album are Jean-Paul Vest (vocals, guitars, bass) and Eric Schuman (drums). At some point along the way they enlisted additional help from Wendy Walters (bass, backing vocals). You'd never know the band began as a studio creation, though, for the tracks that make up my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 If You Only Knew... sound both refreshingly organic and surprisingly complete.

The music relies heavily on muscular guitar lines -- very Replacements/Gin Blossoms -- but with lyrics both literate and self-flagellating enough to remind of James McMurtry or Matthew Ryan. Tracks of note include: the opening "Starting Gun," with its mythic lyric and fat, driving guitar line; "Second Place Waltz," with its Dylanesque vocals and a bluesy feel that builds to a powerful finish; and their frankly brilliant cover of Willie Nelson's "Crazy," where the music rocks out to the edge of control like Marshall Crenshaw on a serious drinking jag, while the vocals hold things together with a dreamy Chris Isaak feel that somehow works perfectly. There's a dash of John Hiatt to the whole thing as well, a heady mix of intelligence, fallibility and damning self-knowledge.

To be fair, there is a least one happy song on here, the bouncy shout of "This Here Changes Everything," which -- one last namedrop -- has a bit of a BoDeans feel to it, albeit with extra punch on the guitars. It just happens to be the exception. On the opposite extreme is the other cover song here, BS's fuel-injected, nearly psychedelic remake of George Harrison's "The Art Of Dying." More typical of Blue Sandcastle are sharply-drawn relationship portraits with lines like "We're speeding but I'm in no hurry / to see how far I've come undone" and brutal self-examinations like "Guardrail," which could be subtitled "Why I Always Fuck It Up."

All of which brings us back to my opening question: does the world really need another album of obsessive post-breakup songs set to surging rock and roll guitars? As long as there's one more person out there in the world just about to have their heart broken and stomped to pieces on the floor, you're goddamned right it does. The old saying declares that life is pain. I wouldn't go that far myself, but for those passing moments when it feels that way, this album and all its ancestors and descendants are the soundtrack of life.

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blue Sandcastle, and is used for informational purposes only.