Swinging through the area on October 1 (at Del Mar’s Brick 15), Richard Shindell brings his interesting songs; he’s a folk performer whose singing/songwriting style has transcended the form. Recording and releasing music since the early ’90s, his latest offering is Careless. This album took three years to complete and shows Shindell—a New Yorker who spends big parts of his time in Argentina—to be a sort of pop musical chameleon. His music is all over the place in terms of genres and styles, demonstrating an ability to use studio musicians, arrangements, and production to build absorbing musical ideas.
The 11 tracks (ten originals) were slickly recorded with a large cadre of backing musicians but polished to a smooth gloss by Shindell and co-producer Greg Anderson. Shindell plays many instruments, including guitar, and provides the low-key, comfortable central vocals. After “Stray Cow Blues” opens with a toe-tapping shuffle that settles in with some typical blues hallmarks, the title song is a personal storyboard about a failed relationship, complete with the recriminations: “How careless I was with you then/ You who were once my friend.” Shindell’s website has the lyrics to all of the tunes, always a plus. “Infrared” goes for a quirky pop feel, and manages to pile oddball, scientific lyrics onto a lavishly produced tune that works well with layers of guitars, sailing harmonies and horns.
Shindell scores a disc highlight with “The Deer on the Parkway,” which slows things a bit as he builds a catchy guitar/ keys hook that provide his canvas to sketch a vivid scene—and to mix in allegories for freedom and contemporary life with observations about deer. “My headlights their eyes, what will they decide/ Will the deer on the Parkway let me pass by?” One of the strengths of Shindell’s songs is that they are consistently around four to five minutes, taking their time, making sure the message is delivered, but not dragging on and on. “Your Guitar” is nicely sung, with the harmonics of the guitar a prominent second voice, as he sings the saga of an old, traveled, and treasured instrument.
Sharpening his social-commentary pencil, Shindell makes a statement with “Atlas Choking.” An unusual and clever dressing down of tobacco addiction and marketing, it is no holds barred in the lyrics; squaring off at cigarette-glorifying Ayn Rand after her passing. “Meanwhile on the planet the devil’s still at it/ Making a killing churning out addicts/ Everywhere sucking in Ayn’s air.” Shindell isn’t done with his protest scalpel, and another disc highlight is his imaginative “Satellites.” The verses are about the decaying world, with greed and unresponsive government the rule—and workers and retirees bearing the consequences—while light and floating choruses remind the listener that the unconcerned satellites are still going around above. The disc closes with a contemplative, spiritual cover called “The Dome,” which finds Shindell singing about heavenly light and a silver sensor moon to an ethereal hypnotic drone. It brings a quiet and dignified close to a fascinating and eclectic collection of music.