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Jacob Furr debuts strong folk songwriting

September 3, 2009

There are various schools of thought when it comes to folk music. Woody Guthrie leads the traditionalists. The Dylan school is all cryptic lyrics and chunky chords. There’s the Nick Drake school, which is quiet, pensive, and emotive. The Sufjanites pack their songs full of instruments. There’s the freak-folk Banhart followers, which are just out of their minds. And then there’s the Joseph Arthur school, which is plaintive lyrics and lots of pop influence. No folk artist can escape the influence of these artists.

Jacob Furr falls squarely in the Joseph Arthur school. His songs are definitely folk-laden, but have a lot of pop influences. The strumming is smooth, the recording is tight, and the songwriting is structured in concise pop structures more than the meandering, free-form folk odysseys of other artists. His voice is warm and inviting; no creaking, breaking or howling here. These seven tunes on The Only Road are very emotive, but not hysterical or pre-occupied with their own emotionality.

In short, these are honest songs that are enjoyable. They don’t belabor the point, and they don’t make it cryptic or inaccessible. “Many Times” is about being lonely on the road, and its musical echoes of Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” only accentuate the point that being free and on your own is not always all that it’s cracked up to be. Tom Waits would have been proud to write “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” as the eerie sway and low-slung plod invoke an atmosphere of danger, dark alleys and more. Furr’s invocation of Jewish legend and religion (“going over river Jordan”) makes the song even more foreign and thus all the more interesting.

Furr’s command of melody on “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” is another element that helps the song succeed. His vocal melodies, carried by his calm and inviting voice, are some of the longest-sticking remnants after the album is done.

Other than “Stranger,” the highlight here is “Where Are You Going?” The song expertly combines all the elements that Furr is best at:  solid songwriting conveying honest emotion, a memorable vocal line,  and an inviting atmosphere. It’s the type of song that fits in the emotional climax of TV shows, and I mean that as high praise.

Also in “Where Are You Going,” he delivers his best lyrical line. The lyrics in The Only Road are clear, concise, and, in comparison to other folk artists, not something to write home about. But he delivers a crushing set in the middle of this song:  “She said why are you flying?/Cause it’s faster than a bus/There’s no stops along the long way./What became of us?” In the midst of the mundane conversation he’s relating, he drops in the whole point of the song, then jumps off again, ready for the next lyric. The stark contrast and particular delivery made me take notice from the very first time I heard it, and that’s a good thing.

The Only Road is a good debut. Furr has established himself as a strong songwriter in the vein of Joseph Arthur and Josh Rouse. He can strengthen his lyrics (and, in folk, that’s a big consideration), but the musicianship is tight. If you’re interested in folk that will please your ears and tickle your emotions, Jacob Furr should be in your near future. And seeing as you can get his album in a “pay-what-you-want” scheme, you really should.

Jacob Furr-Form & Distance EP

August 1, 2007

Jacob FurrForm & Distance EP


Every month, we at Independent Clauses receive CDs to review. Some come shrink-wrapped and label-stamped, sounding crisp and processed; others are humble home-recordings with overwrought trappings of professionalism; then there are some like Jacob Furr’s Form & Distance EP. I opened my packet of CD’s this month to find one in a hopeful plastic jewel case, staring up at me with a sharpie-scrawled title balancing on the outer edge of a Memorex CD-R. No liner notes. No website. No song titles. No E-mail address. No contact information. My first thought was, “Oh no… this is going to be fun,” but I was pleasantly surprised by what my speakers sang when I popped Form & Distance in.

I imagine a studio apartment overlooking a busy city street—hey… I may be romanticizing here, but go with it—an old four-track recording unit rigged up to a Rube-Goldberg of ins and outs, direct boxes and preamps, and Jacob Furr sitting calmly in the middle of this, singing in a soft-spoken tenor into a beat-up SM-58 knock-off while the coffee percolates. The nine tracks of this album shift between coffee-shop acoustic love-songs keyed up with a harmonica’s dull whine, and dirty, slide-slinging, traditional blues. Furr didn’t fuss over an album theme or a concise sound, but he maintained a dutiful attention to lyrics and rhymes, which speaks of solid songwriting.

The fourth track—they didn’t have titles—tells an everyman story, punctuated by the verse: “I hope love finds you Homer/ before you’re six feet underground / Wrapped up in the dust that you came from / and the peace you never found,” and hung on the chorus: “You were born into the world a noble boy; / you were forced to work and do your part / And in the end what’s it all for / when you’re tired and thin like Homer Emmons.” A brush-stroked snare drum pushes the easy two-chord cycle, while a tambourine is tossed into the mix’s left ear, as Furr’s unobtrusive voice eases across the reflections of a man looking back on life. The last song of Form & Distance carries the lyrical tone of Bob Dylan on a positive trip, beginning each verse with, “Gather round you ______ / let me sing you a song; / the days to your redemption aren’t too long,” followed by a brief, poetic explanation of that particular group’s story. The song bears a wonderfully simple construction, and leaves you feeling uplifted.

You get the feeling, from listening to Form & Distance, that Furr had fun recording these songs, finally gathering enough to send them out. I wouldn’t say the tracks belong together on one album, but considering the way it arrived I wasn’t disappointed. There’s something to be said for someone making their own music without concern for commercialism; on the other hand, I’d like to know more about this album: Did Furr record all these songs himself? Did he play guitar, drums, harmonica, and tambourine? What are the song titles? Form & Distance is a work in progress and a good listen.

—Timothy C. Avery

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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