Stranger In My House – By Vincent Colbert
Review by Hannah of www.rockmycommute.com
When you check out a new release by yet-another singer-songwriter, there is always the challenge of how to describe this new artist in contrast to the rest. There is usually something different, but it is sometimes embedded deep within the music, and may be hard to find. Looking at an artists’ website while previewing their music is one of my favorite ways to get started – you learn something more of the person who is creating this work, and this gives you a starting point for interpreting their songs and determining their unique element.
My heart warmed when I noticed on www.vincentcolbertmusic.com that Vincent was based in Ann Arbor. I myself grew up in this area, and for me that part of Michigan is filled with so many happy memories, and much friendship. It breaks my heart to learn that Vincent struggled with loneliness and sadness while in this place that I love so much – but without going through this time of melancholy, Vincent would not have been inspired to write and release this new 5-song EP.
The title Stranger In My House sets you up for this feeling of alienation that comes through in the album, even in the cover artwork of a creepy shack that looks like a Dover Edition Paperback of spooky stories. As I started on the opening track, I was looking for a bittersweet tone and expressions of personal pain in the music – and I realized that Vincent’s appeal is something classic and poetic, a bit like Leonard Cohen. He’s not one of those singer-songwriters that is borderline bluegrass, or neo-folk. He’s just presenting his work in a bare, essential, and yes – classic way – to what is hopefully a new crowd of listeners looking for raw beauty and authenticity.
The opening song “Baseline” keeps time with a wooden clapping sound, almost like a metronome turned up extra-loud. It gets a little grating as it continues through the song – but thankfully later blends into the lovely chorus so you forget about it for a few seconds. It is presented in an echo-y, vintage-y style of recording that helps feature Vincent’s beautiful yet relatable voice. He sounds rather like my favorite singer from The Head and the Heart, on emotional songs like “10,000 Weight In Gold”.
As I listened to Vincent singing “Hold on, we have come on hard times / I think I hit the baseline”, I noticed that the overall effect of this song is very basic and elemental – like you are in a small room with a friend who is performing just for you. I mentioned Leonard Cohen earlier, and while Vincent’s voice is deep, it is not quite as low as Leonard’s – there is a brightness there that sometimes breaks into an energetic vibrato à la Conor Oberst. The overall effect is mellow, smooth, and warm.
Track #2 opens with guitar arpeggios that seem immediately familiar, and the tempo picks up intermittently with good train-track drums jumping in and out. If you like some Nick Drake songs, you might like this one too, as Vincent proclaims “I don’t waste time filling space with empty words”. The next song (“As You Are”) is slower, yet still low, rich, and full of emotion. The recording style again seems bare, which supports the theme of loneliness on this album. There is a lot of that scratchy sound that is so intimate – the sound of fingers moving on strings, up and down the neck of the guitar.
The title track is next, and it explores even deeper into darkness with a confession – “I don’t know what to pray, I don’t have the right words to say”. The chords here are less upbeat in feeling, but the listener may be a little surprised with creative transitions on the chorus (which also features great vocal harmonies, filling in around Vincent’s lead). If you can remember the 90s, maybe you recall “Heaven” by Better Than Ezra? This song evokes a lot of the same emotions as “Heaven”, via both musical and lyrical means.
The EP fittingly ends with a track called “Closing Hymn”. The lyrics suggest deep memories, a delusional past, and disenchanted present. Again the religious imagery in this song reminds me of Leonard Cohen (think “Hallelujah”) as Vincent sings above an appropriately hymn-like chord structure: “Praise The Lord, was the closing hymn”… There is a lovely piano solo on the bridge, before Vincent’s voice sings out strongly one more.
I can see this EP as a collection of songs that would appeal to someone in a time of loneliness or transition – someone looking for understanding, empathy, support, and a special song they can make their own. Personally I prefer songs that are more built-out, musically fuller in instrumentation, and more positive in tone. But if you pack this EP away for a big change that you are making independently – or even for just a rainy weekend when you’ll be alone with your thoughts – you just might find something in Vincent’s consoling voice that will speak to you.