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January Through December Part 3: September-December and Adam Mowery’s St. Joseph’s Mechanical Penthouse
By Mark Carpenter
March 18, 2012

Hello again. This week, my final installment on Clinton Charlton’s project, January Through December, for which a song was composed and recorded for every month of the year 2011. I’ll also be reviewing a great new album by Adam Mowery, St. Joseph’s Mechanical Penthouse.

September: “Nothing To Say”
This track is actually an older Charlton composition, but its plaintive guitar and its theme of change, the necessity of moving on so perfectly matches the time of year it seems to have been written with the month in mind. September is when we accept the cooler temperatures, the shifting colours, and learn to embrace the end of summer and the start of fall. That’s what this song evokes beautifully. The track also has possibly Charlton’s best vocal on this project, tender, regretful, and caustic all at once.

October: “Sleeping Molly”
This track, composed and played on Charlton’s favourite battered guitar, is another lovely instrumental, The guitar’s evocation of perfect domestic contentment is counterbalanced by the ominous SK-1 keyboard, like the autumn wind whistling at the window.

November: “Never Gonna Let You Down”
This song reflects Charlton’s songwriting at its most charmingly casual. With a full band driving its swinging tempo, its friendly communal vibe is in contrast to the solitariness of the previous entry, and also belies the circumstances of its creation (or more accurately, the circumstances by which it almost wasn’t created.) Charlton’s writeup is one of the most interesting on the site for what it reveals about him as a songwriter. It seems that despite the melancholia of his work, he is at his least creative when he is depressed. (Another rebuke to the simplistic idea that artists’ work must always mirror their mood by definition.) The track was composed very quickly as a means of combating a writer’s block brought on quite possibly by the change of season – and really, who isn’t brought down by November weather? Nothing like a recording session with friends to bring up your spirits, and the result should lift you up as well.

December: “I’ll Be A Bird”
Now for the finale. This track is not a Christmas song, but its theme of death and rebirth is perfectly suited to the strange mixture of moods many of us feel during the holiday season, the festivities co-existing with the grimness of the onset of winter. The track builds subtly, with Charlton singing with great ease. Not an epic finish, but very, very moving. A fine way to wrap up the year.

That’s not all, of course, for Chris Braydon, a collaborator on many of these tracks, has opted to continue the project. He has posted two songs so far, for January and February, called “Sun In My Eyes” and “Friends”, respectively. I’ll be reviewing these in a future column. For now, all songs are available at http://www.januarythroughdecember.com/

On to Adam Mowery, a veteran musician, originally from Saint John but currently residing in Halifax. His latest album, St. Joseph’s Mechanical Penthouse, hit Number One on CFMH, and is holding currently at Number Two. You can see why: it’s great!. Mowery works in a genre of lo-fi power pop that is all about wearing your influences on your sleeve; in that sense, he is a flag-bearer in a tradition going back at least as far as Alex Chilton, filtered through the likes of Guided By Voices and East Coast artists such as The Inbreds and possibly dozens more. The thing is, like GBV’s Robert Pollard, Mowery has a knack for melodies that sound familiar and fresh at the same time. An infectious pop-rocker like “Needle To The Heart” can on first hearing seem simultaneously like a song you’ve always known and like the song you’ve been waiting years to hear.
St. Joseph’s showcases not only Mowery’s prodigious skills as a tunesmith, but also his knack for interesting sonic environments. The album is permeated with ambient sounds recorded on the streets of Saint John, creating unusual lo-fi textures that really reinforce the overarching sense of place. This married to the unforced exuberance of uptempo numbers like “Intentional Fallacy” and the wistfulness of acoustic numbers like “Soft Features” makes him a more than worthy successor to Joel Plaskett. Mowery’s album is set to be the soundtrack of my spring and it should be yours too. Here’s a link to the site: www.itsadammowery.bandcamp.com
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That’s all for now. As always, send your feedback and your links to markcarpenter926@gmail.com. Cheers!