Zero Moon

David Corley

Wolfe Island Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


David Corley seemed to emerge from the ether fully formed in 2014, a craggy-voiced fifty-something poet whose songs are the polar opposite of modern pop music: raw, organic, and beautiful in their imperfections; weighty, thoughtful, ambitious and rich with genuine emotion. He might sing about love at times, but he’s just as likely to contemplate mortality or his place in the universe.

The latter themes surely came into sharper focus two years ago after he nearly died on stage in the midst of a quite literally heart-stopping performance in the Netherlands. (We can laugh now because he’s still with us—which was no sure thing in that moment.) Zero Moon arrived earlier this year, released first in Europe, where Corley has quickly built a substantial following, before receiving its U.S. release November 18.

In terms of sound and vibe, think Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen backed by Van Morrison’s band circa Tupelo Honey, loose-limbed, confident tunes that surge and sway and ramble and rumble. Each tune unspools in its own good time, often extending past five minutes to six or seven, a cinematic feel mellowed by understated yet crafty arrangements. To borrow a phrase from Corley himself, these are “past-midnight tunes,” absorbing ruminations to occupy those quiet hours of the night when your mind turns inward and grapples with the knottiest questions about life and love and friendships and meaning and sex and hope and pain.

Corley approaches every song, but perhaps especially tunes like the new album’s opener “Vision Pilgrim,” like an epic poem that he’s giving a dramatic reading at a poetry slam, his deep, gravelly tones a commanding presence, his voice veering between desperation, resignation, and determination. His speak-singing style is so effective, and he inhabits the roles of the characters in these songs so completely, that when he does sing a bit, as on “Never Say Your Name,” it can be a little startling.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Zero Moon captures the same compelling vibe as 2014’s Available Light in substantial part because Corley has wisely chosen to keep the entire production team and band together. Producer and keyboard player Hugh Christopher Brown and Corley have an intuitive feel for how to best present his unique songs and presence, and the rest of the core group—Tony Sherr (bass, guitars), Gregor Beresford (drums, percussion) and Kate Fenner and Sarah McDermott (backing vocals)—are terrific.

As the album unfolds, Corley offers up tunes that seem to address such heady topics as living in the moment while death lurks nearby (“Whirl”), a vision quest for “the meaning of it all” (“Desert Mission”), and losing a great love (the smoky, jazzy “A Lifetime Of Mornings”). The wonderful “Down With The Universe” feels like a metaphysical coming-to-grips reimagined as an Irish bar shanty, all acoustic guitar and pointed observations until the big gang vocals kick in on the chorus.

“Well in time I’ve realized my place on Earth,” he sings in “Universe,” and it does feel like he’s come through a serious reckoning with his mortality, and that it’s underscored for him where he belongs, i.e. making music. And why not when his songs are populated by wonderful lines like: “The thunder breathes and the lightning cracks” (from “Desert Mission”), and: “And change is an old screen door, slappin’ in the wind / Always someone comin’ out, and someone else comin’ in.”

The latter is a highlight from this album’s title track, a majestic lament full of soul and regret as Corley again takes his own mortality in his hand and turns it over and over like a stone, examining every facet. And that’s the core of this album, right there: that search for meaning and understanding and connection, wrapped up in the very human voice of an epic poet. This music isn’t about a beautiful voice or an irresistible hook, it’s about the fine art of painting emotions and ideas with words and investing those words with everything you have to give.

Available Light was a smashing middle-aged debut; Zero Moon is just as strong and sure and just as penetrating lyrically. The only respect in which this doesn’t match up to what came before is the fact that Corley no longer comes as a surprise; we’ve heard him do this before. He set the bar high with Available Light, and he clears it once again with Zero Moon.

Rating: A-

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© 2017 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 Wolfe Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.