Available Light

David Corley

Independent release, 2014


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


It might take a moment to adapt your sensibilities to David Corley’s gravelly, twenty-miles-of-rough-road-and-a-bottle-of-whiskey voice at the start; it occupies a universe all its own, and chances are it’s either going to work for you or it isn’t. But I listened to the first song here and knew I needed to hear the second, and then the third, and by the fourth song, the dude had flat-out seduced me with his songwriting. Like Dylan and Waits before him, David Corley is a lyric poet inhabiting the grizzled, remarkably expressive voice of a blue-collar Everyman.

Still, albums like Available Light tend hinge on atmosphere. You have to feel like you’re in that darkened little dive of a club past midnight and the world has narrowed down to just you and the band and a bottle of something strong. Corley and producer Hugh Christopher Brown absolutely nail that barroom confessional vibe, with production that feels live and organic, but also precise. These songs take their time to develop, with several clocking in around six minutes, and the last over seven, but there’s not a wasted note, and every line is crafted with care.

Nowhere is this truer than on the magnificent opening title track, a rumbling, tumbling manifesto about seizing every imperfect moment before it flashes by: “The book, well it’s a movie now / ‘bout how I was busted up and laid out / tried to grab onto this girl, but she was goin’ way too fast around / didn’t understand quite how she was wound / but ya know we wound up tight / and I shot it all with the available light.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Over a rootsy, Band-like bed of acoustic and electric guitar, keys (mostly Hammond organ, courtesy of producer Brown), bass (Tony Scherr) and drums (Gregor Beresford), Corley next leads you out “Beyond The Fences,” assisted once again by the background vocals of Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermott, their sweet, uplifting tones offering a smooth counterpoint to Corley’s jagged lead vocals.

“The Joke” ups the tempo, adopting a bit of a Van Morrison feel to sketch a gritty street-scene, continuing the thought with the languorous, sighing, equally Morrisonesque “Easy Mistake” (“I’m just tryin’ to do the right thing / That’s an easy mistake to make”). The pair nicely tees up “Dog Tales,” another stunner, a chunky-riffed number that crosses from dream into nightmare and back again. When Corley declares “I am beyond the bounds of all reason / I am standin’ alone in the gale, caught in the hurricane / down in the crease under the soft light’s veil,” it’s hard not to envision old King Lear bellowing at the wind.

“Unspoken Thing”  and “Lean” both feature Fenner and McDermott again offering terrific support, with the male-female counterpoint vocals developing into a call-and-answer that almost becomes a conversation in places, their suppleness contrasting beautifully with Corley’s roughness. “Neptune / Line You’re Leavin’ On” again ventures into Morrison territory, a gentle, wise train-station goodbye to a restless lover (“I don’t believe you’re gonna find things getting any easier / on down the line”).

“The End Of My Run” is a slow and steady lament, a soliloquy of personal calamity that Corley delivers with the sort of deep conviction that only personal experience brings. The album closes with “The Calm Revolution,” an anthem of quiet determination highlighted by a silvery electric guitar figure running through it, a single, continuously massaged note that fades in and out like a faraway siren in the depths of night.

At times, Corley’s work reminds me of The Hold Steady in the sense that the words stand on their own; the lyrics are complete narratives, so fully realized that the music can feel more decorative than fundamental to the songs. The difference between Corley and The Hold Steady is that Corley actually sings, though at times in a voice so relaxed and comfortable in its craggy skin that it feels more like a conversation.

While Corley has been involved with music in some form for most of his life, this album is, at age 53, his debut as a recording artist. It was worth every year of waiting, every life experience and hard-won insight that led him here to this moment. With a voice like a gravel quarry and the heart of a lion, David Corley constructs a universe of broken souls searching for moments of redemption. Available Light is a remarkable achievement, an album aglow with a ragged beauty that’s simply magnificent to behold.

Rating: A-

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