David Alter – Songs for Sale (2013)

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Though Canadian singer-songwriter David Alter always had this passion for music, a career in medicine beckoned. Once he returned to that first love, however, the question became how to present his work. Songs for Sale presents these pieces through a sweeping variety of voices — and Alter’s complex and involving music is the better for it.

The opening “Travelin’ Down Country Roads,” featuring vocalist Gregory Hoskins, is a triumph of confidential quietude — as delicately presented as it is emotionally resonant. “Never Look Back,” meanwhile, becomes the first of two showcases for Michael Danckert — as Songs for Sale deftly moves from an Americana groove into a pianistic Elton John vibe. Later, on “Sobriety,” Danckert returns with a devastating fragility, tracing the same heart lines as Jeff Buckley.

Throughout, the sensitive guitar of Rob Piltch, combined most often with George Koller’s upright bass and occasionally with Richard Evans’ keyboards and Christian Howes’ strings, contribute to the project’s shaded, often very layered sophistication. Being as it unfolds via a remarkable series of very individualistic singing styles, these apt contributions keep Songs for Sale from feeling disjointed.

There’s this smart stoicism, for instance, to a reading of “Jennifer” by Kirsten Rea — who elsewhere sings harmony vocals on four tracks. Then Katheryn Rose adds a twilight poignancy to “Still the One,” while “Live for Today” (though marred by tacked-on in-concert sound effects) finds Yvan Pedneault tapping into an anthematic arc of hopefulness. Mark Kopman and Alex Samaras then bring things full circle with “Brother,” referencing early (and the very best) Elton John all over again.

David Alter and his children handle the remaining three songs, with Shira and harmony vocalist Rachel Alter giving “Special World” a touchingly innocent reading. David then presents “Lai Lai Lai” and “Start Again” with an interior reverence — something that immediately brings to mind Paul Simon’s most intimate successes.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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